The 1971 Attica Rebellion

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The deadliest prison unrest in our nation’s history, the 1971 Attica uprising brought the plight of the incarcerated to the forefront of our nation’s consciousness.

The conditions that led to the uprising mirrored the state of many prisons across the U.S. at the time: Attica was marked by overcrowding, poor medical care, widespread violence, pervasive racism, few educational opportunities, and an excessive use of threats and force on the part of the prison guards.

On September 9, 1971, Incarcerated people in Attica took control of the facility, holding about 40 people hostage and issuing a series of demands to prison administrators. Their demands focused on their basic civil and human rights—such as medical care, religious and political freedom, a living wage, and opportunities for education and rehabilitation.

After four days of negotiations, Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered that the prison be retaken. In a 15-minute siege on the Attica prison yard, twenty-nine incarcerated individuals and ten security and civilian staff were killed as a result of shots fired by State Police. After the troopers and guards retook control of the prison, several incarcerated individuals were brutally tortured and humiliated. The harm done to the survivors of the assault and the families of the victims has been deep and long-lasting.

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