Within hours of the siege, New York’s correctional services commissioner, Russell G. Oswald, assumed control from Mr. Mancusi. After failed negotiations with the prisoners, more than 1,000 armed law enforcement officers were called in. The four-day standoff ended with a hasty government crackdown in which 29 prisoners and 10 prison employees died amid a storm of tear gas and bullets. The final death toll reached 43.
So wanton was the shooting that one state prosecutor described it as “a turkey shoot.” A state commission investigating the incident wrote that “with the exception of Indian massacres in the late 19th century,” the incident was “the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War.”
The inmates of Attica, who were rioting largely because of poor living conditions and the alleged racism of white correctional officers, became symbols of the prison reform movement. In the social unrest of the early 1970s, the word “Attica” became a rallying cry for anyone resisting the establishment.
In Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon,” set in Brooklyn and based on a real incident, a bank robber played by Al Pacino memorably tries to rile the crowd of onlookers by chanting: “At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca!”
At the time of the revolt, Mr. Mancusi was 57 and had climbed the ranks of the New York state penal system to his post at Attica in 1965. He oversaw policy at the prison, while the deputy superintendent presided over day-to-day operations.
Mr. Mancusi lived in a brick house on the grounds of the prison, where inmates were contained by 30-foot walls and 14 gun towers. One inmate, Frank Smith, told a reporter years later that he ironed the warden’s shirts, cleaned linens for the Mancusi household and received in payment a box of cigarettes at Christmas.
Such an arrangement was not unusual for correctional officers of Mr. Mancusi’s era. He was, in essence, an old-school warden and became known at Attica for his “cage approach” to criminal justice, the New York Times reported during the uprising. The method proved ineffective, and ultimately explosive, as the civil rights and the prisoners’ rights movements took hold.
Herman Schwartz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who served as the first intermediary between the Attica prisoners and law enforcement, said in an interview that Mr. Mancusi “was not responsible for the overcrowding, which is one of the worst things that can happen in a prison because it scares everyone.”