Forty Years Since Deadliest Prison Riot in History

September 12, 2011 Updated Sep 12, 2011 at 2:27 PM EDT

By Jaclyn Asztalos

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September 12, 2011 Updated Sep 12, 2011 at 2:27 PM EDT

Amherst, N.Y. (WKBW) - It's been 40 years since the Attica Prison riots but the question remains what has the state and prison system learned from the tragedy?

"There were travesties on both sides of the isle," Retired Attica Prison Superintendent James Conway said.

James Conway is a recently retired Superintendent for Attica Prison, the home of the deadliest prison riot in history. His father and uncle experience the revolt first hand. He said there were many people to blame on both the prisoners' and the state's side but he said the revolt stemmed from the poor treatment of the inmates.

"They were locked in their cell at five p-m and they were there all night until 7am," Conway said.

UB Law Professor Teresa Miller helped organize a seminar on the campus to remember and discuss the events of September 9th 1971.

"The prisoners faced a number of horrid conditions they had limited education, limited religious freedoms," Miller said.

She said prisoners had enough and took matters into their own hands.

"The uprising was a wake up call to the state that when things are bad enough people will die, it really is a deplorable state," Miller said.

Miller also said there was a lot of racism inside the Attica walls that affected the every day lives of African American and Latino people.

"All white security staff and almost all the inmates were African American or Hispanic men from downstate. The worst work assignments were given to the Blacks and Latinos," Miller said.

Conway and Miller said in the seminar they have discussed the many positive changes that were made not only at Attica but also across the New York State Prison system since the up-rise.

"One of the first things we did was expand the recreation program and recreation opportunities. We built a gymnasium. They built a vocation facility offered seven different vocations," Conway said.

They also agree much more must be done about existing problems as new conflicts that have come to light.

"Although a lot has improved but Attica is the same in many ways. There are still a small number of people of color on the security staff and there is still upstate down state tension," Miller said.

They are hoping that this conference will keep this violent revolt in the forefront of people's minds so those issues will continue to be looked at and improved.

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