Revisiting Attica Shows How New York State Failed to Fulfill Promises
In her new book, “Blood in the Water,” Heather Ann Thompson offers the most detailed account yet of the historic uprising by inmates over squalid conditions at Attica Correctional Facility in western New York. On Sept. 13, 1971, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller ordered state troopers, armed with rifles and handguns, to storm the prison and quash a four-day rebellion. By the time it was over, 39 people had been shot dead, including 10 prison employees. Four others died earlier.
While the retaking of Attica was the bloodiest event in a decade of civic upheaval, it spurred landmark prison reform efforts. In negotiations, Russell G. Oswald, the state corrections commissioner, agreed to 28 of the inmates’ demands meant to expand their rights and improve prison conditions.
Before the riot, prisoners in New York got one roll of toilet paper a month and were permitted one shower a week. Any inmate letters written in a foreign language were thrown away. Islam was not recognized as a legitimate religion...