ALBANY, NY — New York authorities have lifted a ban that had stopped state prison inmates from reading a book about the 1971 Attica Correctional Facility uprising following a First Amendment lawsuit brought by its author.
State officials, however, said they will continue to censor one small part of the Pulitzer-prize winning book for security reasons. A two-page map of Attica will be removed from copies sent into the prisons.
Author Heather Ann Thompson, a historian and professor at the University of Michigan, sued the state’s prisons in March over the ban on her book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971.”
Published in 2016, the book is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the uprising, where more than 1,300 inmates took over part of a prison in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. It ended when state troopers and guards shot tear gas into a prison yard before firing hundreds of rounds into the smoke.
In total, 39 inmates and staff were fatally shot in the retaking. Three inmates and a correctional officer were killed by prisoners in the initial uprising and the standoff that ensued. No law enforcement officers put on trial for their role in the massacre, and inmates originally accused of crimes were granted pardons and amnesty as the state tried to close the book on the nation’s deadliest prison uprising.
“People have a right to read, and people have a right to history,” Thompson said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed. “We also have a right to have our books read. It’s a shame we live in a country where we censor people and ideas.”
50 years later:50 years after Attica: The unfinished business of our nation’s deadliest prison uprising
She was represented in the lawsuit by the Civil Rights Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Last week, the state attorney general’s office said in a letter to a US judge in Manhattan that the ban would be lifted, but only in paperback copies where the map can be removed.
If a correctional facility rejects a request for an order of the book, prison officials are now legally obligated to send Thompson notice of that.
Includes reporting by the Democrat and Chronicle
Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.