The Attica Prison Riot of 1971 and Its Impact on Prison Reform.

Topics: Prison, Mandatory sentencing, Reform movement Pages: 7 (1957 words) Published: September 30, 2004
The Attica Prison Riot of 1971 alarmed and outraged society. The public outrage brought about long overdue prison reforms including changes to public policy and administration. The riot began on September 9, 1971 and ended on September 13, 1971 when state police stormed the prison and opened fire. The re-taking of the prison left ten employees and twenty-nine inmates dead. During the riot itself one employee and three inmates were killed. The exact causes or incidents that led to the uprising are still argued today. There are different views on the events that incited the riot in the first place, the tragedies that occurred during the riot and the handling of the riot. However, one thing is certain, the riot did more than just raise an eyebrow it caught the attention of both the general public and government officials which in turn made it blatantly obvious that the prison system was in need of massive reform.

Attica spawned the prison reform movement and over the past thirty years many policies have been changed and/or created to improve the overall living conditions and treatment of prisoners. The following is a list of demands the inmates set forth during negotiations according to Frank "Big Black" Smith (1998), one of the inmate leaders of the rebellion:

The Fifteen Practical Proposals

1. Apply the New York State minimum wage law to all state institutions. STOP SLAVE LABOR.

2. Allow all New York State prisoners to be politically active, without intimidation or reprisals.

3. Give us true religious freedom.

4. End all censorship of newspapers, magazines, letters and other publications coming from the publisher.

5. Allow all inmates, at their own expense, to communicate with anyone they please.

6. When an inmate reaches conditional release date, give him a full release without parole.

7. Cease administrative re-sentencing of inmates returned for parole violations.

8. Institute realistic rehabilitation programs for all inmates according to their offense and personal needs.

9. Educate all correctional officers to the needs of the inmates, i.e., understanding rather than punishment.

10. Give us a healthy diet, stop feeding us so much pork, and give us some fresh fruit daily.

11. Modernize the inmate educational system.

12. Give us a doctor that will examine and treat all inmates that request treatment.

13. Have an institutional delegation comprised of one inmate from each company authorized to speak to the institution administration concerning grievances (QUARTERLY).

14. Give us less cell time and more recreation with better recreational equipment and facilities.

15. Remove inside walls, making one open yard, and no more segregation or punishment.

Although the list of demands is entitled "15 Practical Proposals", I have some trouble viewing all of the demands as practical. Specifically numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 14 and 15. Why should inmates be paid the same wage as law abiding citizens or worse yet earn more than those law abiding citizens who are unable to find employment? Why should inmates be allowed to communicate freely without any supervision? There has to be some restrictions and monitoring of communication. As far as reaching a conditional release date and receiving a full release goes, it just sounds absurd. A conditional release date is just that conditional. If a parolee is returned to prison on a parole violation it seems only right that he be re-sentenced upon returning to prison. While I agree that it would be beneficial for correctional officers to be educated on the needs of inmates, I don't see where abolishing punishment fits into this spectrum. After all, prison is not supposed to be a picnic. As far as less cell time I agree with this but replacing that with more recreation time does not make much sense. Extra recreation time should be an earned privilege not a right. The last demand makes absolutely no sense to me at all and I just can't seem to find any...

References: American Civil Liberties Union (2001). Policy Priorities for Prison Reform. Retrieved September 13, 2004, from
N.Y.S Department of Correctional Services (2004, May). Writing a future mindful of its past. DOCS Today, 13(5), 6-10. Retrieved September 13, 2004, from
Smith, F. (1998, January). The Struggle for Justice Continues. The Attica Talk Flyer. Retrieved September 13, 2004, from
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