News Release

Attica, 30 Years Later


Next week marks the 30th anniversary of the uprising at Attica prison in upstate New York. In 1971, on Sept. 13 — four days into a rebellion by 1,281 prisoners demanding humane treatment — more than 500 state troopers assaulted the prison compound, under orders from Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The troopers’ gunfire killed 29 inmates as well as 10 guards being held hostage.

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An Attica prisoner 30 years ago, Smith was prominent in the rebellion. Immediately after it ended, Smith was among the prisoners who underwent torture. After his release from prison, Smith became a paralegal and litigant in the lawsuit that resulted in a $12 million settlement with prisoners after a 26-year legal battle. Smith said today: “The problem isn’t just with Attica or with prisons. It’s with the foundation these prisons are built on: selective prosecution, selective arrest, class, racism — all that. We all have a responsibility to fix the problem. Crime bills and sentencing guidelines are part of the problem, but we all bear responsibility for finding solutions. We all have to wake up; what you don’t know can hurt you.”

Lead counsel for former Attica prisoners in their civil rights case, Fink said today: “Conditions in prisons today are worse than they were at the time of Attica. At that time, there were 11 prisons in New York State; today there are 90. There were 11,000 prisoners in the state at that time; today there are 90,000. Currently, 6.47 million Americans are under some form of judicial restraint…. The vast majority of prisoners do not belong in prison. They belong in some form of rehabilitation, most in drug rehabilitation…. The Attica brothers rebelled because of inhumane treatment; the potential for another Attica looms large today.”

Terrizzi is executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, a private not-for-profit organization providing services to New York State inmates. He said today: “One of the positive legacies of the Attica rebellion was the establishment of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, which was designed to give inmates a voice and access to the courts to address their grievances…. Currently at Attica, major reform has just begun in the way mental health services are provided to the seriously mentally ill, who often end up in the prison’s solitary confinement unit. This court-ordered reform came after a 15-year court battle led by PLSNY. At the moment, however, the state is likely to terminate a contract with PLSNY to provide needed services to inmates, once again leaving the state’s 70,000 prisoners with no meaningful access to the courts.”

Van Taylor is executive producer and Lichtenstein is producer/director of “The Ghosts of Attica,” a documentary premiering Sept. 9 on Court TV. Van Taylor said today: “We had an incredible opportunity to tell some truth about a story that continues to unfold. Archival evidence that had never been available before became available after the settlement, 30 years after the uprising. There was graphic evidence of the assaults and torture committed by the state against the inmates; the footage also demonstrated the depravity of state officials who went to great lengths to cover up the brutality against prisoners and their own guards.”
More Information

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Cynthia Skow, (415) 552-5378; Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020