This Is How Many Attica Inmates Died During The 1971 Riot

The Attica Prison riot of 1971 is considered one of the most catastrophic episodes in New York State's history. The Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, was built in 1931 to house criminals in the fortress-like prison, with its 2-feet-thick walls that stood 30 feet high. Guard towers littered the perimeter to ensure no prisoner would escape. Per Britannica, prisoners experienced harsh conditions within the walls, with most of their time spent in their tiny jail cells. Prisoners didn't receive adequate medical care, the food was bad, and employees lacked the proper training they needed to run such a huge facility.

By 1971, prisoners at the facility were fed up with the inhumane conditions they were exposed to. Inmates resorted to peaceful protests to let authorities know about their complaints. At that time, there were approximately 2,200 inmates, most of them African American and Hispanic. The conditions were deplorable and inmates wanted improvements to their basic rights such as sanitary food and medical needs, per WBFO. The racial tension was rising between the inmates and the prison guards, who were white.

What sparked the rebellion?

The Attica riot began when a prison guard stopped two inmates who were fighting. The inmates were sent to isolation cells, and there were talks around the prison that the two men involved in the fight would receive beatings from authorities as punishment for fighting, per Black Past. On September 9, a group of angry inmates crowded around a prison gate, which eventually broke down, allowing the inmates to gain access to different parts of the prison.

Inmates were able to take control of cell blocks and used whatever was available as weapons. The number of correctional officers was no match for the inmates and soon, 40 of the prison staff members were taken hostage. Leaders of the rebellion gave their demands including the ousting of the prison superintendent, federal takeover of Attica, better prison conditions for inmates, and immunity for the crimes during the riots. One of the rebellion's leaders, Elliott Barkley, said the following: "We are men. We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such ... What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed," (via TED).

The end of the riots and its casualties

On September 13, the inmates were given an ultimatum and were told to surrender. When they refused to do so, tear gas was dropped on the yard and authorities stormed into the prison, shooting their guns in the cloudy atmosphere. Per History, the police shot 3,000 rounds when they barged into Attica. The rioters surrendered, but reports say that some were shot even after surrendering. Attica Prison was back in the hands of the authorities.

In the end, a total of 43 people were killed in the Attica Prison riot. Over the years, there has been some confusion over who died and which groups were responsible but most sources agree that one guard lost his life and 42 prisoners were killed — the majority (39) during the raid while several others (whose deaths were initially attributed to their throats being cut by other prisoners) were actually believed to have been shot by authorities.