To the Editors:
…As a practicing lawyer, I participated in a suit brought by two Attica State prisoners under the Federal Civil Rights Act in the Federal District Court in Albany, New York, less than three years ago. The prisoners were brought into court handcuffed. Their handcuffs, in turn, were tightly tied to a belt strapped around their abdomens. They were surrounded, throughout the court proceedings, by state troopers and/or prison guards toting shotguns and chewing gum or tobacco. The alleged dangerousness of these two convicts was underscored for the benefit of the court-room audience by putting these gun-toting representatives of the state in a semicircle around prisoners and counsel. At no time did the court see fit to intervene.
Uncontroverted testimony showed these prisoners to have been held naked and totally isolated in cages without anything that could be described as toilet facilities and also totally without cover in mid-winter while a window was kept open in their respective cells—and that in upstate New York for a period of several months, for what prison officials regarded as such infractions of the prison rules as the drafting of petitions to the courts for redress of grievances. These prisoners, one must add, were required, while in these isolation cells, to stand at attention upon entry of any prison official and were beaten for failing to assume the proper military posture with appropriate haste. To this day these prisoners have received no judicial relief.
Any lawyer conversant with prison conditions throughout the country will not view this episode nor that of Attica State as an isolated incident but as part of an over-all pattern, cloaked by official perjury and by the hypocritical and spurious “academic” writings of a new breed of criminologists—penologists—which as in Nazi Germany have sprung up like Topsy in several academic institutions to provide a smoke screen of respectability for man’s inhumanity to man.
One may further note in passing that a prison riot at Kingston Prison in Ontario, Canada, was resolved with minimal violence and no loss of life occasioned by the authorities, under the leadership of Professor Desmond Morton of the University of Toronto Law Faculty.
The arrogance and brutality of the murderous assault on the Attica State prisoners and their “hostages” perpetrated by the state of New York should not, however, stop an outraged citizenry, if one is still discoverable, from demanding a total clean-up and indeed an abolition of the prison system as it is presently known in North America. Those who seek alternatives may well look to Sweden for an example where the kind of barbarism prevailing in New York and elsewhere in the United States is unknown….
Professor of Criminal Law & Criminology
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
November 4, 1971