A BILL OF NO RIGHTS: Attica and the American Prison System by Herman & Milton Haynes Badillo

A BILL OF NO RIGHTS: Attica and the American Prison System

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A denunciatory account of the massacre at Attica in which Badillo, a Democratic Congressman from the Bronx, acted as part of the Observers' Committee which tried vainly to negotiate a settlement between rebelling inmates and N.Y. State Correction officials. Lashing out at the ""Captain Queeg,"" lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key philosophy which governs prison rule in general, Badillo fingers Gov. Rockefeller and state Correction Commissioner Oswald as particularly blameworthy in this graphic account of the preparations for slaughter by trigger-happy officials. While the Monday morning attack was in progress Badillo notes ""we [the negotiators summoned by Rocky] were all very concerned that we might be shot by our guards."" Stressing the moderation of prisoner demands -- ""on virtually all matters talked about basic constitutional rights or basic issues of health and safety were involved"" -- the authors draw up a damning indictment of the institutionalized bestiality which characterizes lock-ups in general: the racism of guards administering beatings with ""nigger sticks,"" First Amendment violations which deny inmates the right to books and papers, the chronic travesty of the Eighth Amendment clause forbidding ""cruel and unusual punishments,"" etc. Though his emphasis is legalistic his anger is genuine and his concrete policy recommendations sound. Among these he includes immediate establishment of Boards of Ombudsmen (England has them) to function as inspectors inside, more black and Spanish-speaking guards, and an end to censorship. To date, he charges, most reform-mongers and blue-ribbon commissions have been hypocritical and useless; the sweeping assault on the prison system (""a destructive and monumental failure"") includes some data on recidivism and the challenge to reconsider the entire fortress mentality which precludes real rehabilitation. You know that he knows that nothing much will be done -- Rocky recently announced a new super-maximum security prison for the incorrigibles, a response which Badillo calls ""despicable."" But the real value of this may be simply that it will help to exorcise his own Attica nightmare.

Pub Date: May 31st, 1972
Publisher: Outerbridge & Lazard