Letter from the Director: Beyond Repair

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After forty years, Attica Correctional Facility has failed to evolve into a safe place for incarcerated individuals. Improvements found by our Prison Visiting Project on their April visit to the facility, while encouraging, were grossly overshadowed by serious concerns for the safety and well-being of the people imprisoned there.

Four decades since the Attica uprising, the fundamental flaw at the facility continues to be poor incarcerated individuals-staff relations. Attica today has alarmingly high levels of violence and abuse. Force and threats are still very much the norm. The environment of fear and intimidation inside the prison can be seen in the incarcerated individuals’ downward-cast eyes and tense body language, consistent with a person suffering from abuse. Widespread racism, one of the principal complaints of Attica’s incarcerated individuals in 1971, remains among the most serious concerns of incarcerated people there in 2011. From incarcerated individual-staff relations to housing assignments, facility movement and even program times, the atmosphere that existed prior to the rebellion lingers, pervading nearly every aspect of the facility.

The events at Attica in September of 1971 left irreparable wounds and inflicted lasting harm upon survivors. Many continue to suffer from symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. The State of New York is long overdue in issuing an apology to the survivors of the massacre. For the incarcerated men who were brutalized and tortured in the days that followed the assault, the families of the 39 people killed by the troopers, and the prison workers taken as hostages in the uprising—an apology could represent one small but vital step towards healing these injuries.

Unable to cast off its violent past, Attica Correctional Facility stands as a bold testament to inhumanity. It is broken beyond repair, and Governor Cuomo should shutter its doors forever. Symbolically, the closure of the facility would serve as an acknowledgment of the violence and brutality inflicted upon the incarcerated individuals of Attica at the hands of the state. Fiscally, prison closures continue to make sense for our cash-strapped state. Recognizing the inefficiency of New York’s over-reliance on incarceration, Governor Cuomo has already designated several facilities for closure. These downsizing efforts should continue, and Attica should be next on the Governor’s list.