It was a prison guard's nightmare. For 5 days, 1,000 inmates rebelled against their correctional officers, holding 42 prison employees hostage and forcing negotiations for better treatment and living conditions. However, when negotiations broke down, the National Guard was sent to retake the prison. In the end, the violence left 33 inmates and 10 employees dead. See the shocking photos from one of the worst prison riots in history.
Attica Correctional FacilityDemocrat and Chronicle
Tensions were on the rise in 1971 at the Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison about 30 miles south of Buffalo, New York. The predominately black and Puerto Rican inmates were fed up with the living conditions in the overcrowded facility. Prisoners were only allowed to take one shower per week and they had to make one roll of toilet paper last an entire month.
Riot BeginsDemocrat and Chronicle
Violence boiled over when several prisoners, angered over officers' response to an inmate scuffle, broke into "Times Square," the junction in the center of the prison (pictured here). They beat guards with baseball bats and broken pipes, fatally injuring one of the guards. Then more than 1,000 inmates rioted, setting buildings on fire and taking 40 officers and civilian employees hostage.
Inmate TerritoryDemocrat and Chronicle
Inmates rampaged the prison and gained control of D-yard, Times Square, and other sections of the facility. There, they built barricades with anything they could find.
NegotiationsDemocrat and Chronicle
The inmates had a list of grievances. They wanted federal takeover of the prison, better conditions, amnesty for the crimes committed during the revolt, and the removal of the prison's superintendent.
Black PowerDemocrat and Chronicle
Their manifesto criticized the "unmitigated oppression wrought by the racist administrative network of this prison throughout the year." At the time of the riot, all 383 correctional officers were white and 54 percent of the inmate population was black. This riot came at at time when black militancy was at its height.
Homemade WeaponsDemocrat and Chronicle
Prisoners made all sorts of makeshift weapons, including spears, bent forks, and slingshots. Here's a pair of homemade brass knuckles.
Rallies Outside Prison WallsDemocrat and Chronicle
Outside of Attica, people were showing their support for prisoners through rallies and demonstrations as far away as Los Angeles. The Attica Riot became one of the most important events in the Prison Reform Movement.
Russell OswaldDemocrat and Chronicle
Russell Oswald, the Correctional Services Commissioner, and a team of observers, including writers, lawyers, and state politicians, negotiated with the prisoners. At one point, Oswald and the inmates had made agreements on 25 items. However, when prisoners asked for demands (asylum in a non-imperialistic country and general amnesty for all involved in the riot) that could not be met, negotiations reached a stalemate.
The National Guard IntervenesDon Dutton/Toronto Star/Getty Images
At that point, the Governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller approved an operation to take the prison back by force. He sent the National Guard to end the rebellion. The Guard dropped tear gas on the prisoners and then marched into the facility, shooting through the smoke.
GunshotsDemocrat and Chronicle
Within 6 minutes, more than 2,000 rounds were discharged. The National Guard caused more bloodshed than necessary because they used shotguns, which have an imprecise range.
Dead And InjuredDemocrat and Chronicle
The state troopers shot indiscriminately into the crowds in D-yard, killing 29 inmates and 9 of the hostages. Another hostage would die of of his gunshot wounds a few weeks later.
The Media PortrayalDemocrat and Chronicle
The media inaccurately reported that the inmates had slit the throats of the hostages, but autopsies later revealed that the hostages had died from the state troopers' gunfire.
After The RiotDemocrat and Chronicle
After the failed negotiations and the retaking of the prison, guards made the inmates crawl through the prison yard and beat them.
LegacyDemocrat and Chronicle
The prison riot became one of the most famous in history. An investigative report released a year later concluded that the state could have avoided bloodshed if it had handled the operation differently. Victims of the riot filed a lawsuit against the state of New York. In 2000, the state finally paid up to $8 million to the 1,280 men harassed during the attack.