Year
1971

Attica prison riot ends

A four-day riot at Attica Prison comes to a violent end as law enforcement officials open fire, killing 29 inmates and 10 hostages and injuring many more. The prison insurrection was the bloodiest in U.S. history.

On the morning of September 9, 1971, a group of inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in western New York, assaulted a prison guard and began rioting. They took prison employees hostage and gained control of portions of the facility. Negotiations between inmates and prison officials followed. The inmates demanded better living conditions at the overcrowded prison, which had been built in the 1930s. At the inmates’ request, a committee of observers that included politicians and journalists was formed to oversee the talks.

When negotiations broke down, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered Attica to be taken by force. Rockefeller was planning to run for the Republican presidential nomination and reportedly wanted to combat the perception in some circles that he was soft on crime. On the morning of September 13, tear gas was dropped over the prison and state troopers opened fired on a group of over 1,200 inmates. In the chaos, 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed by police gunfire and another 80 people were seriously wounded, the majority of them inmates, in what became the bloodiest prison uprising in U.S. history. Adding to the death toll were three inmates and a guard who had been killed earlier during the riot.

Some inmates later claimed that police took brutal revenge on them and that they were denied medical care for hours afterward. An investigation into the Attica revolt resulted in over 60 inmates being indicted and eight eventually convicted. One prison guard was charged with reckless endangerment, but his case was later dropped. A class-action suit filed in the 1970s on behalf of over 1,200 Attica inmates was settled in 2000 when a federal judge ordered New York State to pay $8 million to the surviving inmates. In 2005, the state also agreed to pay $12 million to the survivors and families of employees killed at Attica. Some of the inmates who have done time at Attica in the years since the riot include Mark David Chapman, who killed musician John Lennon; “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz; and Colin Ferguson, who gunned down six people on the Long Island Railroad.

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