‘Bloodiest prison riot in US history’ saw lags seize jail for days as 43 killed

On this day 50 years ago, the US witnessed the beginning of one of the deadliest prison riots in its history with over 43 people being killed.

The uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility began on September 9 in 1971 and lasted for over four days before negotiations halted and New York State Police stormed the prison and took it back by force.

The prisoners had taken 42 prison officers and a civilian employee hostage after becoming angered by a lack of movement from prison officials regarding their demands for better living conditions and rights.

The Attica Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison located in New York.

According to USA Today, New York commissioner of corrections Russell Oswald received a letter from five inmates from the prison in July.

The letter featured a list of 28 demands for reform and was signed by the five inmates who called themselves the Attica Liberation Faction.

Oswald acknowledged the letter and said he would take them under ‘careful consideration.’

However, tensions escalated as inmates became angry due to the belief the commissioner was delaying changes.

Inmates reportedly complained of overcrowding, poor living conditions and mistreatment.

At the time of the uprising, the prison had 2,234 inmates with a majority being black prisoners.

On the morning of September 9, inmates were told the recreation yard was being locked, prompting prisoners to knock down a steel gate by overpowering guards and stealing their keys.

According to the New York Post, by 10:30am the convicts had gained control of the entire D Yard and taken hostages.

Four days later, police took back the prison by force, resulting in 29 inmates and 10 hostages being killed in the prison's southeast D Yard.

There were also three inmates and a prison guard killed by other inmates in the days before the prison was retaken. It was reported that another 128 prisoners were injured.

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A daughter of one of the injured officers, Deanne Quinn Miller, has written a book entitled “The Prison Guard’s Daughter: My Journey Through the Ashes of Attica”. Her father William “Billy” Quinn was grievously injured during the riots and died two days later on September 11, 1971.

Speaking to the New York Post, Miller said ‘we never got an apology’ but is hoping the 50th anniversary might be the year.

She said: “I’m hoping that, on the 50th anniversary, Gov. Kathy Hochul, who grew up near Attica, will apologize on behalf of the state.”

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