REBELLION BEHIND BARS
Three violent prison outbreaks in New York shocked the nation and afforded Roosevelt a challenging opportunity during his first year as Governor.
It was the last week of July, 1929, when some 1,300 of the State's criminals in Clinton Prison at Dannemora rioted and stormed the walls in an abortive attempt to escape. Three inmates were shot and killed and at least a score of others wounded before a hastily recruited army of prison defenders drove them back to their stone cell blocks with hand grenades, tear gas, rifles, machine guns, and shotguns. Known as the "Siberia of New York," this prison was feared and hated by even the most desperate criminals. 1
Six days later, many of the 1,700 inmates at Auburn Prison battled guards for five hours. While four of the ringleaders managed to escape over the wall, two others were shot and killed and eleven suffered gunshot wounds. 2
Prison outbreaks are never accidental or spontaneous. There are always underlying causes to such tragedies and these two outbreaks were the result of a variety of factors. Leading penologists had long deplored the incarceration of a majority of New York prisoners in small, inadequate cells. Auburn, built in 1816, was the oldest State penitentiary in use. It stood on low ground near a river and was damp and depressing. The building was a shell, inside of which were two rows of stone cells, back to back, in five tiers. The old cells were seven and one-half feet long, four feet wide, and seven and one-half feet high. In the newer part of the cell block they were only three and one-half