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Attica Inmate Demands, 1971

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In April 1972, the New York State Special Commission on Attica held hearings in the aftermath of the Attica prison riot. One man who testified was Herman Schwartz, a law professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Schwartz had represented Attica prisoners in the past, and he was admitted to the prisoner controlled area of Attica during the riot to seek a peaceful solution to the standoff. In this excerpt from his testimony, he and the commissioners discuss the prisoners' demands, which evolved from a short list of six to a longer, more carefully thought-through catalog of practical measures.

Schwartz (reading list of demands): "From all inmates of Attica Correctional Facility to Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller...

Sirs. Immediate demand one. We want complete amnesty, meaning freedom for all and from all physical, mental and legal reprisals.

Two. We want now speedy and safe transportation out of confinement to a non-imperialist country.

Three. We demand that the federal government intervene so that we will be under direct federal jurisdiction.

Four. We demand the reconstruction of Attica prison to be done by inmates and/or inmate supervision; and,

Five, we urgently demand immediate negotiation through" -- and at this, a number of people, including Mr. Kunstler, Mr. Eve, the solidarity prison committee, Mr. Farrakhan, Young Lord Party, Black Panther Party, Clarence Jones, Tom Wicker, Richard Roark... and the names go on.

There is a final one that says "We intensely demand that all communication will be conducted in our domain, guarantee safe transportation to and from..."

Commissioner: These were the so-called fifteen practical proposals... Which read -- I could just summarize --

amplify the New York State minimum wage law to prison industries;

allow prisoners to be politically active;

give prisoners true religious freedom; and

end censorship of newspapers, magazines, other publications, letters;

allow inmates at their own expense to communicate with anyone they please;

permit an inmate who has reached his conditional release date to be released without the conditions of parole;

cease administrative resentencing of inmates;

institute true rehabilitative programs;

educate the correctional officers on the needs of inmates;

provide a healthy diet without as much pork and with more fresh fruits;

modernize the inmate educational system;

provide a doctor who will examine and treat all inmates who request treatment;

have an institutional delegation comprised of one inmate from each company authorized to take up grievances with the administration;

provide for less cell time and more recreation with better equipment and facilities; and

remove the inside walls so that there will be one open yard and no more segregation or punishment.

Those were the fifteen so-called practical proposals.

Source: Testimony of April 19. 1972. New York City Public Hearings, New York State Special Commission on Attica (The McKay Commission), pp. 519-520, 531. http://talkinghistory.org/attica/mckay-6.html

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