21 Images of the Horrific Attica Prison Uprising


The Attica Prison riot of 1971 took place at Attica Correctional Facility in New York. During morning roll-call on September 9, the 5 Company inmates heard that one of their fellow block-mates was going to be held, isolated in his cell. A group of protesters broke the roll call line to go back to their own cells in solidarity. Rather than remaining in their cells, the group freed the isolated prisoner and they all went to breakfast. When the command staff was alerted of what transpired, they hastily changed the 5 Company schedule. Rather than going outside as they typically would, the inmates and corrections officer (CO) found the door to be locked.

When more COs arrived to bring the prisoners to their cells, an angry inmate assaulted an officer and the riot began. The inmates quickly gained control of the D-yard, two tunnels, and the central control room known as Times Square. The inmates took 42 COs and civilians hostage and produced a list of grievances demanding their conditions be met before ending the rebellion.

Frank “Big Black” Smith, was appointed head of security over the negotiations and kept the hostages and the observers safe. Over the next four days of negotiations, authorities agreed to many of the prisoner’s demands but refused to give amnesty from prosecution for the prison takeover nor was the removal of Attica’s superintendent agreed to. The negotiations were led by 21-year-old inmate, Elliott James “L.D.” Barkley, who would be killed when the prison was retaken.

As a result of all the demands not being met, negotiations broke down and the inmates prepared for battle. Trenches had been dug, metal gates had been electrified, crude battlements were fashioned out of metal tables and dirt, gasoline was put in position to be lit in the event of conflict, and the “Times Square” prison command center was fortified. Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered the prison to be retaken.

On September 13, tear gas was dropped into the yard and New York State Police troopers opened fire into the smoke. Hostages and Inmates, who were not resisting, were killed. Former Corrections Officers were allowed to participate which a committee, established by Governor Rockefeller to study the protest and aftermath, deemed “inexcusable.”

When the smoke cleared, 10 hostages and 33 inmates had been killed.

1. We Demand the constitutional rights of legal representation at the time of all parole board hearings and the protection from the procedures of the parole authorities whereby they permit no procedural safeguards such as an attorney for cross-examination of witnesses, witnesses in behalf of the parolee, at parole revocation hearings. Oneida Daily Dispatch
2. We Demand a change in medical staff and medical policy and procedure. The Attica Prison hospital is totally inadequate, understaffed, and preju¬diced in the treatment of inmates. There are numerous “mistakes” made many times; improper and erroneous medication is given by untrained personnel. We also demand periodical check-ups on all prisoners and sufficient licensed practitioners 24 hours a day instead of inmates’ help that is used now. AP
3. We Demand adequate visiting conditions and facilities for the inmate and families of Attica prisoners. The visiting facilities at the prison are such as to preclude adequate visiting for inmates and their families. Boston Globe
4. We Demand an end to the segregation of prisoners from the mainline population because of their political beliefs. Some of the men in segregation units are confined there solely for political reasons and their segregation from other inmates is indefinite.
Inmates of the Attica Correctional Facility negotiating with Russell G. Oswald, lower left, the state prisons commissioner, in September 1971. Associated Press
5. We Demand an end to the persecution and punishment of prisoners who practice the Constitutional Right of peaceful dissent. Prisoners at Attica and other New York prisons cannot be compelled to work as these prisons were built for the purpose of housing prisoners and there is no mention as to the prisoners being required to work on prison jobs in order to remain in the mainline population and/or be considered for release. Many prisoners believe their labour power is being exploited in order for the state to increase its economic power and to continue to expand its correctional industries (which are million-dollar complexes), yet do not develop working skills acceptable for employment in the outside society, and which do not pay the prisoner more than an average of forty cents a day. Most prisoners never make more than fifty cents a day. Prisoners who refuse to work for the outrageous scale, or who strike, are punished and segregated without the access to the privileges shared by those who work; this is class legislation, class division, and creates hostilities within the prison.        Black panther leader Bobby Seal to help mediate the riot in it’s third day of siege. AP
6. We Demand an end to political persecution, racial persecution, and the denial of prisoner’s rights to subscribe to political papers, books, or any other educational and current media chronicles that are forwarded through the U.S. Mail.
Capt. Frank Wald, a correctional officer at the Attica State Prison (Hands Clasped) as he and other guards held hostage by inmates tell newsman they were being treated fairly by inmates. AP
7. We Demand that industries be allowed to enter the institutions and employ inmates to work eight hours a day and fit into the category of workers for scale wages. The working conditions in prisons do not develop working incentives parallel to the many jobs in the outside society, and a paroled prisoner faces many contradictions of the job that add to his difficulty in
adjusting. Those industries outside who desire to enter prisons should be allowed to enter for the purpose of employment placement.
Inmates in D Yard at Attica Correctional Facility before the deadly police assault. Pinterest
8. We Demand that inmates be granted the right to join or form labour unions.
A state trooper holds the burnt cap of a hostage guard, an ugly memento of five terrible days from inside the prison. Pinterest
9. We Demand that inmates be granted the right to support their own families; at present, thousands of welfare recipients have to divide their checks to support their imprisoned relatives, who without outside support, cannot even buy toilet articles or food. Men working on scale wages could support themselves and families while in prison. State Troopers prepare to retake Attica. Pinterest
9. We Demand that inmates be granted the right to support their own families; at present, thousands of welfare recipients have to divide their checks to support their imprisoned relatives, who without outside support, cannot even buy toilet articles or food. Men working on scale wages could support themselves and families while in prison. Two inmates at Attica visit with another inmate inside a makeshift hospital set up by the inmates in cellblock D. AP
10. We Demand that correctional officers be prosecuted as a matter of law for any act of cruel and unusual punishment where it is not a matter of life and death.                                                   Inmates in Attica’s D yard shortly after state troopers regained control of the prison, Sept. 13, 1971. Credit Photograph from Bettmann Archive, via Getty Images
11. We Demand that all institutions using inmate labour be made to conform with the state and federal minimum wage laws. State troopers regain control of the prisoners. 9/13/1971.Pinterest