In her new book, “Blood in the Water,” Heather Ann Thompson offers the most detailed account yet of the historic uprising by inmates over squalid conditions at Attica Correctional Facility in western New York. In 1971, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered state troopers, armed with rifles and handguns, to storm the prison and quash a four-day rebellion. By the time it was over, 39 people had been shot dead, including 10 prison employees, reports the New York Times, with the Marshall Project. The retaking of Attica prompted landmark prison reforms. The state agreed to 28 of the inmates’ demands meant to expand their rights and improve prison conditions.
Before the riot, prisoners got one roll of toilet paper a month and were permitted one shower a week. Inmate letters written in a foreign language were thrown away. Islam was not recognized as a legitimate religion. Today, there are Muslim chaplains in most state prisons, inmates can take high school equivalency tests in Spanish and access to law libraries is guaranteed. They are entitled to more showers. Still, many changes that were promised were never made or have been rolled back. For example, a permanent ombudsman for inmates never was established, and working inmates never have been paid the minimum wage.