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1971 Attica Prison Riot

The September 1971 revolt and riot by inmates at the Attica State Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, ended in a violent response by state officials. However, during the five days inmates controlled the prison, lawyers for the inmates and prison officials sought to negotiate a peaceful solution.

During the spring and summer of 1971, the inmates at Attica had negotiated with prison administrators over a list of prisoner complaints. Among the grievances were inhumane conditions, abuse by prison guards, ARBITRARY release dates, a lack of racial diversity among the prison guards, and the prison's failure to give inmates a reasonable opportunity to exercise their freedom of religion. On September 9, 1971, the talks broke down and dozens of inmates revolted. Inmates managed to overtake prison guards, take hostages, and gain control of the prison facilities. One prison guard and two inmates were killed in the initial uprising.

Over the next three days the inmates met with a host of attorneys, including CIVIL RIGHTS and antiwar advocate WILLIAM M. KUNSTLER. The inmates communicated with state officials through the attorneys and submitted a list of more than two-dozen demands. They also took steps to protect the hostages from more hostile inmates by forming a human ring around the hostages.

On September 13, 1971, the commissioner of corrections submitted a settlement ultimatum to the inmates and gave them one hour to respond. If the inmates did not agree to the terms in one hour the state would use force to reclaim the prison. After two hours had passed with no response, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller ordered an assault. Officials shut off the electricity to the prison, state police dropped tear-gas canisters from helicopters, and state troopers emptied their rifles into inmates in the prison yard. The assault was brief but bloody: 39 inmates and hostages were killed. A total of 43 deaths were ultimately attributed to the events from September 9 through 13. The state's actions in retaking the prison were heavily criticized, leading to a review commission report that called the use of force excessive.


Oswald, Russell G. 1972. Attica—My Story. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Wicker, Tom. 1994. A Time to Die: The Attica Prison Revolt. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.


Prisoners' Rights; Riot.

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