The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Attica Prison Riots Remembered

Sept. 9 marked the 36-year anniversary of the Attica prison riots in Buffalo, New York. At 8:20 a.m., nearly half of Attica’s 2,200 inmates charged the large metal doors leading to the central part of the prison, assaulting prison guards and taking them hostage, in demand of more humane living conditions.

Chaos erupted immediately. According to, within less than two hours, 42 guards and civilians had been taken hostage. The prisoners rioted because of limited access to toilet paper, showers, and vocational training, as well as censorship of their mail.

Four days after the prisoners incited the riots, state troopers opened fire and dropped tear gas into the yard resulting in 29 inmate and 10 hostage deaths. All four of the original guards taken hostages were killed.

“(The event was a) metaphor for the United States prison system in general,” said sociology major Matt Gibson-Hatcher. “The pre-riot conditions at Attica show how abusive and disorganized the prison system can be.”

While many remember the riots because of the direct action taken by a group of confined peoples against their administrators, Jerry Joplin, associate professor of justice and policy studies, recalls the riots for different reasons. As a former correctional facilities counselor of ten years, Joplin remembers the tactical errors on the administration’s part.

“The warden tried to negotiate with the inmates . and when that didn’t work the governor tried to negotiate with them,” said Joplin. “Who was going to negotiate next, President Nixon?”

The bolts on the main metal door that snapped had been rusting for years, but were painted over and never repaired.

“The prisoners had control of the prison long before they realized it,” said Joplin.

According to, while the riots at Attica did draw national attention to the problems of the prison system, the arrival of State Troopers on the fourth and final day of the rebellion marked the single bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War.

In partial response to the Attica riots, the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) was founded in 1974, four years after the riots, by the inmates of Green Haven Prison in collaboration with the Quakers.

Similar to the Peace and Conflict Studies department at Guilford, the AVP aims to reduce the level of violence in our society by providing workshops in non-violent conflict resolution strategies.

“It’s important that people remember the Attica prison riots … and the demonstrated power that confined people can have,” said Joplin. “(However,) in some respects, the inmates’ plan backfired.”

They sought out liberation, but in the end, not all of the prisoner’s demands were not met, and many innocent bystanders and prison guards were left dead.

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