The Menlo Roundtable

The Attica Prison Uprising: A Symbol of the American Prisoner Rights Movement

On September 9, 1971, 1,281 prisoners of the Attica Correctional Facility assembled with 42 hostages, 29 demands, and a dire need for change.

Located in Attica, New York, the facility housed 2,250 inmates at the time but had a maximum capacity of 1,600. Granted one toilet paper roll a month, one shower a week, and 63 cents per day for meals, one person incarcerated at the facility equated the conditions to the “plantations in slavery.”

By September, tensions between people incarcerated at the Attica Correctional Facility and the correctional officers reached a turning point. Various conflicts spurred thousands of incarcerated people into action, and within hours, they had taken control of the prison’s exercise yard, assigned tasks to various people, and voted upon a list of demands. For the next three days, they negotiated with Commissioner of Corrections Russell Oswald. However, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York at the time, cut the peaceful negotiations short and ordered the violent and unorganized retaking of the prison. A helicopter dropped tear gas into the yard, and by 9:46 am, 1,000 state troopers, correctional officers, and other law enforcement officials entered the prison. By the end of the retaking, law enforcement had killed 29 incarcerated people and 10 hostages. Combined with the three incarcerated individuals and one guard that the incarcerated people killed during the initial rebellion, the Attica Prison Uprising became the most deadly prison uprising in United States history.

Photo: Courtesy of the Associated Press