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GUARDS TROUBLED BY LATEST INMATE ATTACK

Inmates used more than just their hands to beat correction officers last week in a mess hall melee at Attica Correctional Facility, officials said Friday.

Prisoners beat guards with batons wrenched from the hands of officers, and a surveillance camera captured one inmate striking a fellow inmate with a mess hall tray, according to prison sources.

Initial information released by prison officials listed four guards as suffering injuries, but that number has increased to 10; three of the officers are off duty recuperating, a union official said Friday.

There was no mention initially of weapons being used against the officers, only that an inmate had started the disturbance by attacking a guard.

Prison officials explained that they released what information they could verify at the time, but union representatives for the correction officers said they believe this attack, like many others, was intentionally downplayed by authorities.

As of Friday, an uneasy calm had returned to the maximum-security prison, following a lock down that ended Tuesday, a week after the attack.

"The correction officers are on edge. We're on heightened security," said Correction Officer Richard Harcrow, president of Attica Local 1040 of the New York State Law Enforcement Officers Union, Council 82.

What disturbs many of the 550 Attica officers is the brazenness of the Sept. 30 assault, which union officials believe was carried out by members of a prison gang.

"This incident went off in a mess hall where there are surveillance cameras and they know we can identify them," Harcrow said. "But still, they assaulted the officers. It shows how militant and stupid they are."

They also resent being portrayed as chronic bellyachers upset over job conditions, according to Harcrow, who welcomed a union plan to have an expert on criminal gang behavior address correction officers in the near future.

"Any training is good," he said, adding that limited in-house department training on gang control has been insufficient. "To be honest, our department is in the Stone Age."

James B. Flateau, spokesman for the state prison system, insisted correction
officers routinely receive professional training in how to deal with inmates and that administrative tools exist to eliminate gang activity.

"We have trainers on staff who teach the officers about gangs and how to deal with them," Flateau said Friday. "The first line of defense against gangs is the correction officers writing up inmates who participate in unauthorized activity.

"Then we can start tracking the inmates, finding out whom they associate with and transferring them. That's why we have 15 maximum-security prisons."

Bob Lawson, spokesman for Council 82 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the umbrella union representing the state's 21,000 correction officers, said, "Gangs put everyone at risk in a prison facility, the officers, the civilians and the non-gang inmates.

"What is most troubling about the attacks is the direct assaults on officers. It's not a matter of officers trying to break up a fight. We've seen several wanton attacks on correction officers over the last nine months," he said.

Flateau said the union's gang expert would not be allowed into state correctional facilities ". . . because this is a political stunt being put on by the union. Correction officers are already getting real training."

A cause for the fight last week at Attica remains under investigation, according to prison officials.

Attica, about 50 miles southeast of Buffalo, was the site of the worst prison uprising in United States history in September 1971. Forty-three people died, including 10 hostages and 29 prisoners who were killed during the retaking of the prison.

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