Attica Prison Riot And Prison Reform
We live in a society today filled with crime and fear. We are told not to go out after a certain hour, always move in groups, and even at times advised to carry a weapon on ourselves. There is only one thing that gives us piece of mind in this new and frightening world we live in: the American penal system. We are taught when growing up to believe that all of the bad people in the world are locked up, far out of sight and that we are out of reach of their dangerous grasp. Furthermore, the murderers and rapists we watch on television, we believe once are caught are to be forgotten and never worried about again. We wish on them the most horrible fates and to rot in the caged institution they are forced to call their new home. But, where do we draw the line of cruelty to those who are some of the cruelest people in our country? And what happens when one of this most strict and strongest institution our nation has breaks down? What do we do when this piece of mind, the one thing that lets us sleep at night, suddenly disappears? This is exactly what happened during and in the after effects of the Attica prison riot of 1971. The riot created an incredibly immense shift and change not only in the conditions of prisons, but also in the security we feel as American citizens both in our penal system and American government. The Attica prison riot brought about a much-needed prison reform in terms of safety and conditions for inmates, which was necessary regardless of the social backlash it created and is still felt today.
The 1970s in the United States was a time of incredible change, doubt, as well as reform. The many issues happening throughout the country helped to lead to the discomfort in many prisoners that eventually lead to their escape and takeover attempts. One of the many issues that were plaguing the United States during the seventies was the end of the Vietnam War. What initially started as a conflict, soon turned into a bloody war from which the United States saw no end in sight. The approval rating of the war got smaller and smaller as the years progressed, finally getting as low as a slim fifty percent in support before we withdrew our troops from Vietnam. The main people who were not in support were a small group of liberals with a large voice. They boasted statistics such as the fact that we were funneling twenty-five billion dollars into the war annually while forty thousand men were being sent over seas monthly. The anti-war protests on college campuses, Martin Luther King Junior’s public denouncement, as well as the Tet Offensive, were the catalysts to the end of the war. Finally, it seemed as though we would be getting our men back home. But, what they came home to was not the warm welcome they were expecting. Not only were they not welcomed as heroes as had been expected; they came home to a country with an absurdly high unemployment rate and who was in serious trouble. Soldiers who had just come home soon “ became part of...
Loading: Checking Spelling0%
Prison Reform Essay2891 words - 12 pages Prison Reform In today's society, we are facing many changes. Our own family, neighbors, and countrymen are afraid of many dangers which influence their lives. Although many people have fear which resonates in their consciousness and unconsciousness, the United States has a comparatively low crime rate. Despite this low crime rate, America incarcerates it's citizens five times the rate of Canada and seven times that of most European...
Prison Reform Essay1097 words - 4 pages Three inmates could be released from prison today. Two of them will end up right back in the system within three years. This statistic should be enough to conclude that America's prison systems are failing miserably with the rehabilitation of inmates. How is it plausible for every correctional facility to think isolation, segregation, and overcrowding could possibly benefit the crime rate? Instead of converting...
Attica State Prison Uprising September 13, 1971845 words - 3 pages Attica State Prison Uprising September 13, 1971 George Jackson the most famous political prisoner in the 70's and leader of the Black Panther Party was incarcerated at San Quentin Prison in California. He was killed by the State on August 21, 1971. Because of this Attica inmates organized a hunger strike and wore black arm bands. George Jackson's revolutionary writings in his book he had written "Soledad Brother'; was passed from inmate...
Prison Reform In America1872 words - 7 pages Prison "Reform" in America In the essay "Prison "Reform" in America," Roger T. Pray points out the much attention that has been devoted to research to help prevent crimes. Showing criminals the errors of their ways not by brutal punishment, but by locking them up in the attempt to reform them. Robert Pray, who is a prison psychologist, is currently a researcher with the Utah Dept. of Corrections. He has seen what...
The Importance of Prison Reform1343 words - 5 pages In this world we live in many feel that prisons exist to punish, not counsel, offenders. That may be true that Prisons exist for punishment, but they also have an important contribution to make to reducing re-offending by engaging prisoners in rehabilitation programs and purposeful work. Society is flawed in its thinking that by putting criminals in a place away from society we would be better off. To make it worse I am sure that more...
THis essay is about American Prison Reform, the many changes, as well as both sides of the issue- DOes it need to be reformed? It also concludes and solves the issue.2122 words - 8 pages "Once an individual has been convicted of a criminal offence the government has the right to administer a sanction." (Criminal Justice, p. 209) While this may be anything from a fine to incarceration, in the past century imprisonment has been the favored option. During the 1960's and 70's when there was little emphasis on the prison system and incarceration, crime rates soared. Yet by the mid-1970's when the prison population increased along...
Comparing Prison and University.1228 words - 5 pages For my paper I have chose to write about the institutions of the prison and the university. I will be defining these terms as an institution and also be comparing and contrasting both. These two institutions both serve a very specific purpose to what try to accomplish and as well have many similarities and differences.For my paper I have chose to write about the institutions of the prison and the university. I will be defining these...
Women, Prison, and Sexual Assault1110 words - 4 pages Assessing the consequences of our country’s soaring imprison rates has less to do with the question of guilt versus innocence than it does with the question of who among us truly deserves to go to prison and face the restrictive and sometimes brutally repressive conditions found there. We are adding more than one thousand prisoners to our prison and jail systems every single week. The number of women in prisons and jails has...
Classification and Prison Security Levels719 words - 3 pages What is classification? According to page 160 chapter three classification is the process of dividing an inmate population into manageable groups for custody and treatment purpose. There are different types of classification. The different typed are external classification, internal classification, classification process, initial classification and reclassification. Classification can be based on psychology, education vocational, health and...
BLACKS, PRISON, AND INSTITUTIONAL RACISM1332 words - 5 pages BLACKS, PRISON, AND INSTITUTIONAL RACISMDescription: The title pretty much says it all in this one. This paperaddresses the issue of blacks in prison and explores the socio-economiccauses and solutions. This paper uses many govermentally commissionedreports.Blacks, Prison, and Institutional RacismIntroductionCriminal justice and security is one of the largest industries in the...
War on Drugs and Prison Overcrowding712 words - 3 pages University of Phoenix Criminal Justice Administration CJA 453 Juan Campos February 5, 2009War on Drugs and Prison Overcrowding Prison overcrowding is a major problem1in our criminal justice system and it continues to bea hotly debated topic as to how we should address the...
The second essay in Staughton Lynd's new series, leading up to the 20th Aniversary Conference of the Lucasville Uprising in April of 2013. Reviewing this background page and this timeline might help provide a context and more general understanding for the detailed information contained in Staughton's essays.
RE-EXAMINING THE LUCASVILLE UPRISING: Essay 2
by Staughton Lynd
What Caused the Uprising?
History books often contain a chapter that tries to answer the question: What caused such-and-such a revolt or revolution?
For example: What caused the “Boston Massacre” in 1770 when British troops stationed in Boston fired on a crowd that was pelting them with frozen snowballs and oyster shells? What caused the “Boston Tea Party” of 1773 when chest after chest of tea imported from was thrown into harbor? (Hint: There had not been a new tax.) What caused the beginning of actual warfare at and on ?
The truth is that it is very difficult to be sure why human beings suddenly throw caution to the winds, and, knowing that there may be enormous consequences, take a stand and risk everything. Unsure as to the real causes of a rebellion, the historian may take refuge in a chapter title like “The Gathering Storm.”
Let’s see if we can do better regarding the causes of the longest prison uprising in history in which lives were lost, at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, .
The Authorities’ Account of Causes
After the rebellion, there were several official investigations and reports as to why the “riot” had occurred. Among these were:
∙ A report commissioned by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) director Reginald Wilkinson on “The Initial Hours,” 3 to 6 p.m. on April 11, 1993. This inquiry focused on the intriguing question, Why didn’t the authorities respond more quickly and effectively when the disturbance began in L-block?
∙ A Time Line concerning the activity of the Hostage Negotiating Team.
∙ A report by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, prepared in November 1993, and largely devoted to rebutting facts alleged in the work of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC). (The CIIC is an oversight body consisting of four members of the Ohio Senate and four members of the Ohio House of Representatives.)
∙ An “Interim Report” on the riot by the CIIC, issued on .
∙ A report entitled “Technical Assistance Visit” by Lanson Newsome, a criminal justice consultant.
The most substantial investigations conducted after the end of the uprising were the so-called “Mohr Report,” overseen by legislators headed by Gary C. Mohr, presently ODRC director; a report by AFSCME Local 11, the union of correctional officers; and a report by prison expert Steve Martin, in support of a lawsuit filed by Attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein on behalf of various parties injured during the eleven days.
The Mohr Report, entitled “Disturbance Cause Committee Findings,” was issued on , only two months after the beginning of the disturbance. The Report called attention to a series of objective factors including:
∙ Following the murder of SOCF educator Beverly Jo Taylor in 1990, Warden Arthur Tate was appointed and instituted a set of repressive practices known as “Operation Shakedown.”
∙ SOCF was overcrowded. Operation Shakedown established a population ceiling of 1,609. On , the prisoner population was 1,804. Three quarters of the maximum security prisoners at SOCF were double celled.
∙ After an assault in 1992 on a correctional officer at the Mansfield Correctional Institution (ManCI), and the officer’s subsequent death from medical negligence, 492 close or medium security prisoners were transferred from SOCF to ManCI. About the same number of prisoners, many of them young and militant and 96% of them classified maximum security, were transferred from ManCI to SOCF.
∙ SOCF was located in an overwhelmingly white community just across the from . The great majority of correctional officers were white; 57% of the prisoners were African American. Between January 1992 and April 1993, 74% of all reported use of force cases involved black inmates.
Among the documents attached to the Mohr Report there is one of particular interest. Some prisoners have speculated that the warden, or the guards, wanted a riot at Lucasville so as to justify construction of a new “supermaximum security” prison or the employment of more correctional officers. In the Mohr Report appendix there is a letter from Warden Tate to South Region Director Eric Dahlberg, dated , approximately three weeks before the disturbance began. (See Exhibit 1.) The letter seeks funds for a “maximum security unit . . . to be constructed in the existing space formerly known as the death-row recreation area in J block.” Jason Robb worked as a plumber in SOCF at the time. He says he saw the blueprints for the new “unit.” It was to be a free-standing structure, half underground, with 100-150 cells. (The supermax built at after the uprising had cells for 504 prisoners.) Jason recalls flags in the grass of the rec yard to mark the boundaries of the proposed building.
The immediate cause of the uprising was Warden Tate’s insistence that prisoners submit to testing for TB by means of injection of a substance containing phenol, which many Muslim prisoners believed to be a form of alcohol. On , the warden convened a meeting with three Muslims: Siddique Abdullah Hasan; Namir Abdul Mateen also known as James Were; and Taymullah Abdul Hakim also known as Leroy Elmore. The Muslims explained their concern and called attention to alternative means of testing for TB. After the meeting, Hasan sent a “kite” or written message to the warden that stood his ground but was extremely conciliatory in tone. (Exhibit 2.) The “Report and Recommendation” of the guards’ union contains a remarkable statement aboutWarden Tate’s response. The union Report states that the warden’s response “appears unnecessarily confrontational” and was “a perhaps misplaced display of ‘we are running the prison’ attitude.” Report, Bate-stamped page 00112 and note 14.
Mr. Martin’s Report made use of many depositions and investigative interviews with prison staff. Martin concluded that: 1) Three members of the warden’s staff warned him not to proceed with a plan for TB testing that would cause the whole prison to be locked down and each prisoner to be injected in his cell, if necessary by force, in plain view of other prisoners in the pod; 2) Warden Tate departed SOCF on the afternoon of Good Friday, April 9, leaving an institution in which staffing levels would be “dangerously low” because of the Easter holiday and without informing relatively inexperienced weekend shift supervisors of the “volatile” state of the prison.
The most important document produced by the authorities concerning the causes of the rebellion was a memorandum written several years before April 1993. Indeed,
it was written in 1989, before the murder of educator Beverly Jo Taylor, and before the consequent appointment of Warden Arthur Tate and the beginning of Operation Shakedown.
The document in question is a memorandum, dated , written by Shirley Pope, Senior Research Associate, CIIC, addressed to Terry Morris, Warden, SOCF. It is entitled “Concerns Pertaining to Unit Management and Snitch Games.” It is stamped CONFIDENTIAL.
The memorandum begins by describing how it came to be written. From to , 427 prisoners (more than a fifth of SOCF prisoners) wrote to the CIIC.
According to Ms. Pope, 180 prisoners, or 42 percent of the total number of SOCF correspondents, wrote to the CIIC about concerns pertaining to “Personal Safety.” The next most frequent category of complaints was “Complaints Against Staff,” voiced by 119 or 28 percent of prisoner correspondents.
Also, between March and November 1989, CIIC staff interviewed more than 102 prisoners. As of the date the memorandum was written, an additional 91 prisoners had requested interviews, and “more have been interviewed when they visited this office after being paroled from SOCF.” Staff, too, had been extensively interviewed. These interviews, Ms. Pope stated,
were like no others in my nearly 12 years with the CIIC. . . . They spoke of the relationship between snitch games and unit management, violence, gangs, racial tension, drugs, gambling, sex and extortion rings, job assignments, cell assignments, unit moves, lack of personal safety, fear of other inmates and distrust of staff.
Beginning in Fall 1986, the memo went on, there had been increasing reports from prisoners whose lives had been threatened or who were being extorted, “some of whom had attempted or were contemplating suicide due to their denial of PC [Protective Control],” as well as an increase in complaints from “those seeking transfer for personal safety reasons, some of whom had already been stabbed.”
Specific incidents reported to the CIIC included the account of an officer who “wrote that he paid $50 to an inmate to stop a hit [a stabbing] on another officer,” and the murder of prisoners Tim Meachum, Billy Murphy, and Dino Wallace. “Snitch games,” as understood by Ms. Pope, implicated staff who ”reportedly broke confidences by running to the predator with what was said, or reportedly lying to the gang with claims that the inmate snitched on them regarding their drug deals, [and] those who reportedly caused unwarranted disciplinary action to be taken against an inmate as a reported favor to a snitch.”
Regarding weapons, the memorandum narrated, it was alleged that knives could be bought from staff, and that “a staff person allegedly provided a gun that is reported to be hidden in the institution (whereabouts unknown).” Inmates claimed staff had approached them “offering to make it worthwhile if they would stab another inmate.” One victim of a stabbing claimed that he knew it was coming because his cell was shaken down daily to ensure that he would have no weapon when attacked. “A security staff person reportedly apologized to him afterwards, explaining that he has a family. . . . In another case, after a stabbing, a staff person reportedly approached the inmate who [had done the stabbing] and said, ‘Why didn’t you kill the son of a bitch’.”
What this memorandum shows is that fundamental causes of the 1993 rebellion appear to go back before Ms. Taylor was murdered, before the warden whom prisoners called “King Arthur” was appointed, before the humiliating and dehumanizing practices of Operation Shakedown were put in place.
The most devastating sentence in this devastating portrait of a snakepit behind bars is the following, written (to repeat) in 1989: “[The prisoners] relayed fears and predictions of a major disturbance unlike any ever seen in prison history.”
What the Prisoners Themselves Said
Before, during, and after the eleven days, the prisoners in rebellion had no obvious way to tell their side of the story.
On the first full day of the L-block occupation, Monday, April 12, prisoner Anthony Lavelle improvised a public address system to broadcast the prisoners’ demands. The authorities thereupon turned off electric power in L-block. The prisoners responded by writing their demands on bedsheets and hanging the sheets out of windows in the occupied pods. (See Exhibits 3 and 4.) These lists of what the prisoners wanted appear to provide the best evidence of the causes of their rebellion as perceived by the prisoners.
The bedsheets presented the following demands:
∙ No petty harassment, walking in crowded groups behind yellow lines, forced to wear ill-fitting clothes, haircut standards applied at a whim of officers. Arbitrary rules created to appease an officer’s anger.
∙ Medical treatment that fits the medical guidelines, many people here are given aspirins for serious medical problems.
∙ Agree not to destroy personal property.
∙ No more forced integrated celling.
∙ Ban the use of unsubstantiated criminal records, dismissed R.I.B. and court cases . . . at parole hearings.
∙ Reduce the overcrowding.
∙ Food preparation and variety needs to be seriously upgraded.
∙ [You are] locked in a cell with another inmate you can’t get along with.
∙ Education programs have been so diluted as to only accommodate those of a lesser security.
∙ Phone calls to be able to speak to their families other than 5 minutes at Christmas.
∙ Mail and visiting [policies] are arbitrarily applied.
∙ No rep[risals] against any inmates.
∙ No selection of supposed leaders!
∙ Medical personnel for the injured.
∙ Reasonable pay per work assignments.
∙ Abolish unit management, also security status ratings (Max 3 & 4).
∙ Complete overall review of records of all inmates for parole and transfer status.
∙ Inmates’ committee needed for cross review with staff overseers.
∙ Ideal programming, outside help from statewide groups.
∙ If peaceful ending [to the uprising], cameras present when officers enter.
In trials held after the negotiated surrender, prisoners involved in the uprising continued their efforts to explain why they had rebelled. As I describe in my book Lucasville (2nd edition at pages 156-159), the most determined effort to introduce such evidence came in the trial of the alleged leader of the disturbance, Hasan.
The judge at Hasan’s trial was a former prosecutor. The outrageous bias evident in his rulings included the following:
First: The judge permitted prosecutors to say in Opening Statement: “This riot was the idea of one man. This riot was planned by one man. This riot was organized by one man,” and in Closing Argument: “Whose riot was this? . . . Who called for this riot? . . . Ladies and gentlemen, first and foremost, without question this was his [Sanders’] riot.” Yet when Warden Tate testified and defense counsel tried to question him about prison conditions that caused the riot, Judge Cartolano barred that line of questioning, stating: “This is a murder case. It has nothing to do with the riot, except that it happened in a prison at the time of the riot.”
Second: The defense team was anxious to show that an alternative means of testing for TB had already been used at Mansfield Correctional Institution and to this end called a prisoner named Frederick Crowder. Judge Cartolano refused to let Mr. Crowder testify, opining: “This case is not a case concerning the riot. . . . The justification or the necessity or the wrongness of the riot is irrelevant. . . . I don’t care what they did at concerning a TB testing. It is irrelevant.”
Finally, and most revealingly, Judge Cartolano refused to permit testimony during the sentencing phase of Hasan’s trial by an expert witness named Joseph R. Rowan. Mr. Rowan is an authority on prisons who has testified as an expert in 150 trials. He was prepared to testify that “it is highly likely this riot could have been prevented.” The judge forbade Mr. Rowan from testifying, declaring that “riots are not created by the prison. Riots are created by the inmates.”
To be sure, maximum security prisoners at SOCF in 1993 are not precisely comparable to the well-to-do gentlemen in wigs and knee britches who assembled at Carpenters Hall in summer 1776 to declare independence from .
But there are similarities. Prisoners in L-block might well have said, as does the Declaration of Independence:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shown, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.
But, it was said in 1776, and could also have been said in 1993:
When a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, . . . evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.