Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182

For immediate release:

January 4, 2000

Attica today: In the forefront of national correctional policy

"The settlement announced by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Telesca in Rochester begins to close the book on a chapter in the history of Attica Correctional Facility that was first written long before current administrators, staff and policies transformed it into the prison it is today," Commissioner Glenn S. Goord said today.

"Rather than comment directly on today's settlement that pre-dates us," Mr. Goord said, "I want to commend Attica's current staff for the professional, dedicated and forward-looking manner in which they maintain the safety and security of that facility, mindful of our goal of providing inmates with meaningful programs in an atmosphere that is both humane and constitutional. Attica today is a far different facility than it was in 1971, and it is representative of how our 69 facilities operate across the state today. That crucial fact should be acknowledged in light of today's court action."

Mr. Goord noted two facts illustrating the crucial differences in the Attica prison of 1971 and today:

  • In 1989, Attica Correctional Facility was accredited for the first time by the American Correctional Association, confirming that its operations, administration and management met nationally-accepted standards. Every one of New York's 69 state prisons are accredited.
  • In 1999, then-Attica Superintendent Walter J. Kelly, since retired, was elected Warden of the Year by the prestigious North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents.

Attica opened in 1931 and, as with virtually all prisons of that era, security was of paramount concern and programs were a low priority. The then-1,980 inmate facility encompasses 55 acres and is surrounded by a cement wall rising 30 feet above ground and 13 miles long. At the time of the 1971 riot, among the inmate issues were lack of out-of-cell time, a lack of programs and a general feeling of a lack of any attempt at meaningful rehabilitation or programs designed to meet their basic needs.

At the time, Attica had 390 security and 88 civilian employees. Today, there are 2,198 inmates at Attica (an increase of 11 percent), 587 security employees (up 51 percent) and 193 civilians (up 119 percent). The medical staff at Attica today is 42 people, while programs alone count for another 80, including 21 teachers, 23 counselors and six chaplains. The Mental Hygiene Unit is staffed by the Office of Mental Health. A 78-bed operated jointly by OMH and this department provides a closely-managed and protected setting for emotionally and mentally dysfunctional inmates. A sheltered workshop program provides programming for inmates who have completed the Mental Hygiene Unit.

Inmate programs were virtually non-existent in 1971. Now, during the day, programs consist of facility service jobs such as cleaning, porters, carpentry work plus electrical and other trades (involving 425 inmates), plus food service (78 inmates), academic education (200), vocational programs (123), Industries shops (186), treatment programs including drug abuse (154). Another 1,395 inmates are similarly programmed during the day's second module plus 165 in the third. (Inmates may be programmed in more than one module.)

Those programming increases are in part responsible for increases in security staff. Added staff became necessary to provide coverage for academic classrooms, vocational shops, Industries programs and the host of other out-of-cell activities, such as outdoor recreation, visiting and the Family Reunion Program, now available to inmates. While inmates were locked in their cells up to 17 hours a day prior to the riot, that number is now reversed, with inmates out of their cells that many hours each day.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that prison crowding is not measured solely by the number of inmates in a facility, but instead relies more heavily upon the facility's ability to deliver ancillary services to inmates. Those include determining if the mess hall allows inmates to be fed in a reasonable amount of time, if the program space is sufficient to allow programs to operate properly and if there are enough showers and toilets, for example, to provide reasonable access. That test was met in 1995 when 107 of Attica's cells were doubled.

Attica's operation and administration was first reviewed by the American Correctional Association in 1989, when it was accredited after meeting 100 percent of mandatory and 98.2 percent of non-mandatory standards set by this national accrediting association. Attica passed three-year reaccreditation reviews in 1991, 1995 and 1998. In addition, Attica's inmate grievance program adheres to the Department's statewide standards, which have been certified by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Attica now operates 132 honor cells housing 157 inmates as an incentive for good inmate behavior, offering inmates increased living space and limited cooking privileges. Every inmate in the general population is eligible to purchase 12" black-and-white televisions for their cells. GED, bilingual and other educational programs are also broadcast over the TV system controlled by the facility. The cost of basic cable TV service is paid through the commissions the state receives from the long distance company which provides service to the collect-call only system available to inmates during certain times of the day.

Selected Attica inmates and their families have the opportunity to meet during the Family Reunion Program, which allows extended family visits of as much as 30 hours in duplex housing located within the facility's wall but not accessible to the general population. More than 730 such visits took place in 1998. Visitors also arrive at the facility on buses provided by the state, also funded through telephone commissions. When visitors arrive at Attica, there is a visitor center located outside the prison, where visitors can freshen up following rides that can be as long as 8-10 hours. Adjacent to the visiting room inside of the prison is a children's play area equipped with toys and videos.

Inmate communications are fostered by their purchase of small radios for their cells, which augment the prison's three-station radio system piped into each cell. Besides access to TV in their cells and day rooms, inmates have relatively open access to newspapers, books and magazines through their own subscriptions and those available in the prison general library. The inmates also have access to a law library, as well as to trained clerks available to assist them in research and in writing papers. Inmates can also receive visitors in the visiting room seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. Private rooms are available for meetings with attorneys.

The Inmate Liaison Committee consists of inmates elected by their peers to represent their issues and serve as a conduit to the facility administration. Other inmate organizations are formed along cultural, general interest and ethnic lines and involve more than 500 inmates at any given time. At the same time, more than 200 active volunteers from the community bring programs into prison for inmates, covering such subjects as academics, drug treatment and awareness, literacy enhancement and counseling services.