Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 38


WORTH READING

LESSONS FROM A

BLOODY
REVOLT

45 years after Attica, cry for prison reform persists
By Ronald Goldfarb

Heather Ann
Thompson

Late in the 20th century, the combustible conditions
in American prisons exploded in brutal prison riots,
the crude recourse for desperate inmates to call
attention to their grievances. The Attica prison in
remote western New York State was a major example.
It warehoused 2,300 inmates who were permitted
one shower a week, given one roll of toilet paper a
month, and fed a diet costing 63 cents a day per
prisoner. Mail was censored, and roiling discrimination
against minority prisoners prevailed. The volatile
situation erupted on September 9, 1971, when a
correctional officer was brutally murdered and
prisoners went on a rampage.
A negotiating group of inmates was formed and it
made 33 demands. Some were unrealistic (amnesty,
removal to foreign countries), others were reasonable
(education programs, religious freedom, and fairer
procedures). After four days of fruitless negotiations
with officials and outsiders from the community,
press, and bar, Attica was overrun by heavily armed
state troopers and their siege replaced the ongoing
settlement negotiations.
The Attica uprising was the most dramatic prison riot
in a violent season of them. It lasted four days and
eventually resulted in the governor ordering a wave
of state troopers to retake the chaotic prison. Their
savage crusade ended in the deaths of 39 hostages
and inmates, and serious injuries to many others.
The riveting and horrifying event, captured on vivid
national media, led to investigations, litigation,
studies, and books, as well as to the prosecution of
prisoners and the suppression by state authorities of
evidence of the extreme violence by law enforcement
and correctional officers. In Blood in the Water

University of Michigan historian Heather Ann
Thompson reviews that sordid event and reveals
many repressed records that further detail the
nightmare of Attica. She focuses on the excesses of
state authorities who, however provoked, used brutal
force on the unarmed prisoners, even after order had
been restored.
Some of the new information Thompson relates in
her heavily documented book include questionable
acts taken by officials to hide the excesses of law
enforcement and to impede later investigations of
government misconduct. Sixty-two prisoners were
indicted, and despite evidence of use of excessive
force in the retaking of Attica, only one trooper was
later charged for reckless endangerment, the New
York Times reported in 1975. Hostages and their
families and heirs were deceived by New York State in
their claims for compensation for their ordeals
(hostages were shot and the prisoners had no guns).
Eventually, the state paid reparations to some of the
prisoners and hostages and their families.
Why return to reconsider horrible events that
occurred 45 years ago, readers may ask. Because
prison overcrowding, prisoner abuses, and the failure
of "correctional" goals continue. Liberals who
campaign for humane conditions have been joined
by conservatives who are abashed at the costs and
failures of incarceration. Blood in the Water reminds
readers of the comment by the 20th-century
philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot
remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Visit ronaldgoldfarb.com

Photo and jacket cover courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf Publishing

38 WASHINGTON LAWYER * JANUARY 2017 *


http://www.ronaldgoldfarb.com http://www.dcbar.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January 2017

Washington Lawyer - January 2017
Contents
Your Voice
From Our President
Our Membership
Career & Professional Development
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Government & Gavel
Feature: An Inside Job
Feature: Investment Planning for Lawyers
Feature: Making the Virtual Leap
Feature: Lawyers Have Heart
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Partners' Perspective
Ask the Ethics Experts
Attorney Briefs
Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Washington Lawyer - January 2017
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Contents
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 4
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Our Membership
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Career & Professional Development
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 15
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Government & Gavel
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 17
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: An Inside Job
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 19
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 20
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 21
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: Investment Planning for Lawyers
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 23
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 24
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 25
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: Making the Virtual Leap
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 27
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 28
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 29
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: Lawyers Have Heart
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 31
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 32
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 33
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 35
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Partners' Perspective
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 45
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 47
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Last Word
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