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This Day in History – October 11, 1972

A prison uprising occurs in Washington, D.C.

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On this day in 1972, a prison uprising in a Washington, D.C. jail occurred when approximately fifty inmates gained control of a cellblock where they held 12 jail officials hostage.

Poor jail conditions

Their demands had to do with improving jail conditions and reducing overcrowding. Before the uprising occurred, two inmates at the District of Columbia jail obtained a loaded pistol. On the morning of the 11th, one of these men pretended to be sick. When officials entered the cell to assist him, his roommate assaulted the men with the pistol and took them as hostages.

Nearly four hours later, D.C. Corrections Director Kenneth Hardy entered the cellblock. Unfortunately, he was almost immediately taken hostage himself. Twelve hours later, Hardy agreed to sign the following note issued to him by the inmates:

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“I, Kenneth Hardy, Director of the Department of Corrections of the District of Columbia, hereby promise that there will be no reprisals of any kind, including no deadlock, nor will I bring any court action against any of the inmates involved in the action that has taken place on October 11, 1972 at the D.C. Jail.”

U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm along with other community leaders came to the jail to try to make a deal with the inmates. They came to an agreement – the inmates would release the hostages; and six of the prisoners were permitted to go before a federal court judge in order to air their grievances.

The evening of the 11th, six inmates marched Hardy, still a hostage, to the United States Courthouse. U.S.  District Judge William J. Bryant listened to the six men express their complaints.

The rebellion had lasted nearly 24 hours when the judge convinced the inmates that their demands for better conditions would be met immediately. The hostages, including Hardy, were released. Judge Bryant stated that none of the inmates would be charged for their actions.

However, following a five-month investigation, twelve prisoners were charged with conspiring to escape and rioting. Ten of them were convicted. Additionally, it was ruled that Hardy’s agreement with the inmates was made under threats of violence and was therefore null and void.

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