From the archives: Baltimore jail riots

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Throughout the 1970s, there were several scuffles inside the Baltimore City jail, most notably in February and September 1971 among uproar in the Attica, N.Y. jail.

Reports suggest that by the summer of 1971, the state prison in Attica was ready to explode. From History, “inmates were frustrated with chronic overcrowding, censorship of letters, and living conditions that limited them to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. Some Attica prisoners, adopting the radical spirit of the times, began to perceive themselves as political prisoners rather than convicted criminals.”

In February 1971, two guards were injured when a scuffle between a jail guard and a prisoner recently convicted in a Black Panther murder case provoked a riot in the jail’s maximum-security section. More than 50 prisoners escaped their cells during the disturbance. Armed with steel pipes and wooden mop handles, they smashed windows, unhinged cell doors and flung mattresses around the cellblock.

In September 1971, about 180 prisoners at City Jail staged a window-smashing, food-throwing rampage before being subdued by tear gas. The hour and 15 minute disturbance ended as inmates with tears streaming down their faces moved out of the dining area under the eyes of 75 riot-equipped policemen.

Holding about 2,500, the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) can now accommodate offenders of all security levels. As Baltimore City’s jail, it houses detainees awaiting trial and also offenders serving short sentences. Over the years, the correctional facility has seen its share of structural additions and problems.

Riot reports initially published in the February 21-15, 1971 and Sept. 19, 1971 Baltimore Sun newspapers.

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