On this Day, September 13, 1971, 32 inmates and 11 hostages die during takeover at Attica State Prison

ATTICA, NEW YORK: The Attica Prison Riot also referred to as the Attica Prison Rebellion, the Attica Uprising, or the Attica Prison Massacre, occurred at the state prison in Attica, New York, from September 9, 1971, to September 13, 1971, the last day of which marked the death of 32 inmates along with 11 correctional officers and employees.


A barrage of gunfire from hundreds of state police officers put an end to the four-day uprising at the high-security Attica Correctional Facility outside Buffalo, New York, on September 13, and the event reportedly recorded the highest death toll in the annals of prison rebellions in the US.

How did the Attica Prison Riot start?


On September 9, 1971, tensions reached a breaking point when more than 1,000 inmates, including Arthur Harrison, who had been given a five-year term in Attica, rose, took 39 guards hostage, and took control of the prison.

In his film, ‘Attica’, documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson recounts the tale of the revolt. Both the prisoners and the guards found the takeover to be a horrifying experience, according to him.


“There were sociopaths and psychopaths in the yard,” said Nelson, adding, “And it was this really strange dynamic that you have to be scared of the people in the yard.”

He continued, “[and] you’ve got to be scared of law enforcement, which are on the walkways in the towers that surrounded the prison with guns, aiming guns down on all the prisoners in the yard,” as cited by NPR.


Former detainees can be heard saying, “They wanted to use weapons,” in the trailer of the film, along with, “Put your hands in the air, you will not be harmed, but that was b******t.”

Why did the riot at Attica prison take place?


The rebellion at the Attica took place resulting from prisoners’ demand for improved conditions, which were said to be brutal.

Every day, inmates spent at least 14 hours in their cells. Cramped cells, poor food, insufficient medical care, limited recreation, and a lack of job training, which reportedly led to a degrading environment.

On September 9, inmates rioted and took over the overcrowded state prison, reportedly killing one prison guard by beating him to death.

Later that day, state police retook control of the majority of the jail, but 1,281 prisoners occupied D Yard, an exercise area, and kept 39 prison officers and employees hostage for four days.


After talks broke down, New York Governor Nelson A Rockefeller directed state police to retake control of the prison by force.

How many hostages died in the Attica prison massacre?

Attica Correctional Facility in Western New York was the site of a four-day inmate uprising that concluded on September 13, 1971, when police and guards attacked the facility and killed 29 prisoners and 10 hostages, as per some sources.


A gunshot hole in the railing of cell block D in Attica is framed by a guard’s burned cap. Armed police and National Guardsmen launched a massive attack on the prison, killing over ten hostages and thirty prisoners, as per CBS News.

Massacre at Attica Prison on September 13

Attica Prison Riot Memorial ( Wikipedia)
Attica Prison Riot Memorial ( Wikipedia)


The prisoners were given an ultimatum to surrender on the soggy morning of September 13 during the reading of the ultimatum, but they retaliated by holding knives to the hostages’ throats.

State police and correctional officers reportedly burst in at 9.46 am with rifles blazing as helicopters soared over the yard and began tossing tear gas.


32 prisoners alongside 11 hostages were killed, and 89 people were injured as the police fired 3,000 rounds into the tear gas haze, as per NBC News.

A few inmates were shot or killed after they turned themselves in, but the majority were slain in the initial, uncontrolled storm of gunfire.

Following the deadly raid, officials claimed that the convicts killed the hostages by slicing their throats.

One hostage was allegedly castrated. However, the autopsy revealed that these claims were baseless and that all ten hostages were killed due to the rounds fired by the police. The attempted cover-up fueled public outrage and sparked a congressional probe, as per History.com.

Were any guards killed during the Attica massacre?

Attica Correctional Facility in 2007.( Wikipedia)
Attica Correctional Facility in 2007 ( Wikipedia)


When the state regained control of the correctional facility on September 13, all but one guard of the 43 men who died — 32 prisoners and 10 correctional personnel and employees—were shot and killed by law enforcement.

What was the deadliest prison riot in history?

The deadliest prison riot in world history is said to be the Carandiru Massacre of 1992 in Brazil’s Carandiru Penitentiary, which resulted in the deaths of 111 inmates.


However, the Attica Prison Riot of 1971 is said to be one of the deadliest prison riots in American history, as it reportedly claimed the lives of 43 people, including 32 inmates and 11 correctional officers and employees.

What movie did Al Pacino yell ‘Attica’ in?


In the 1975 film ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, Al Pacino’s character, Sonny, who is holding eight bank employees, hostage, begins chanting “Attica! Attica!” at the onlookers.

This shout alluded to the 1971 Attica Prison incident, evoking the overwhelming police brutality used in reaction to the incident. The sequence is regarded as one of cinema’s best-known stand-offs.

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