The Attica Rebellion

The Attica Rebellion of September 1971 was a pivotal moment in U.S. history and had a significant impact on the evolution of prison reform. The uprising at Attica Prison also highlighted the power of collective organizing and demonstrated the agency that even the most marginalized people possess. The rebellion, which involved nearly 1200 people, was prompted by many factors, most notably the murder of George Jackson in California and the brutal treatment of prisoners by Attica guards.


Inmates at Attica State Prison raise their fists in a show of unity during the Attica uprising. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

After forcibly taking over the facility, prisoners drafted a list of demands, including: improved living conditions, access to medical care, suitable food and clothing, and humane, non-discriminatory, non-abusive treatment by prison guards. The state of New York, led by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, refused to meet these demands. The uprising ended in tragedy when the national guard entered the penitentiary and killed 29 prisoners and 10 guards. Today, the Attica Rebellion remains an important frame of reference for examining the problems within prisons and the larger structural issues within society which produce prisons. Finally, the events at Attica are a reminder of the humanity of all people, including those demonized by the media and powerful government officials.

By Odia Barker