Attica Correctional Facility
In 1971, approximately half of the population at Attica Correctional Facility began an insurrection as part of the Prisoner’s Rights Movement, taking 42 of the prison staff hostage. The riot was over in 4 days, having allowed for 28 of the demands of the prisoners and ending the lives of 43 individuals–ten of them correctional officers or civilians. The armed assault that was staged in order to retake the prison when negotiations broke down was widely considered to be a large failing by Governor Nelson Rockefeller who had refused to negotiate with the prisoners in person and who had approved the decision to use force.
On the day of the assault, the morale of the inmates had slipped low and in an act of desperation, they threatened to slit the throats of four of the corrections officers. Tear gas canisters were thrown into the yard and members of the New York State Troopers and the National Guard were seen to fire indiscriminately into the opaque smoke with rifles and shotguns, mowing down aggressive inmates, complacent inmates and hostages alike. The decision to allow former prison guards to take part in the assault was later described as “inexcusable” by the commission that would examine the riot and its outcomes.
The assault on Attica and reports of prisoner beatings afterward are considered to be systemic issues within America’s Prison Industrial Complex and the reports of the over-use of deadly force have been referenced dozens if not hundreds of times in popular culture. Most notably in the film Dog Day Afternoon by Al Pacino’s character when faced with an excessive police force against a simple bank robbery. This legacy, as it remains, serves as a reminder that the incarcerated are also human and in that sense, they deserve human rights.