Rebellious inmates, apparently satisfied after their list of 10 conditions was broadcast on late-evening news programs by New York City television stations, this morning completed release of 17 prison guards held hostage since Saturday at Ossining Correctional Facility, officials said.
State Corrections Commissioner Thomas Coughlin, who confirmed the end of the siege about 12:40 this morning, said the hostages were unharmed except for some bumps and bruises.
"The agreement we have with the prisoners is that when they have finished eating, they will lock themselves in and we will take over the cell block," Coughlin said early this morning.
Shortly after his announcement, reporters on a hill overlooking the affected cell block heard the sound of cell doors clicking.
The meal apparently was the inmates' first since the siege began about 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Cell Block B, a transient facility that normally houses 618 of the 2,150 inmates in the 158-year-old prison known until 1970 as Sing Sing. About 560 inmates were involved in the takeover, officials said.
About 11:30 p.m. Monday, reporters had heard an inmate saying through a bullhorn that the hostages would be released if the prisoners' list of conditions was publicized. Cheering was heard from the cell block as the list was broadcast.
Five hostages were released in the afternoon and evening, and the other 12 were freed in pairs starting just before midnight. At 12:29 this morning, reporters monitoring prison radio frequencies heard the prison watch commander announce that the last two captives had been freed.
The hostages were being examined by prison doctors before being reunited with their families.
The list of demands, read by the inmate over the bullhorn, included provisions for regular delivery of mail and packages, recreational and other programs, rules for inmates in transit and the presence of reporters when the hostages were released.
The inmate also said prisoners had been assured there would be no retaliation against any inmate because of the takeover, but Coughlin disputed that this morning, saying only that the final agreement "does not include any provision, guarantee or discussion of amnesty."
Coughlin seemed to acknowledge that many of the inmates' grievances were well-founded, saying: "This was an old institution, the oldest in the state system. It had been scheduled to close in three or four years. B block had been closed.
"The pressure of the prison population forced us to reopen B block. They did not have sufficient recreation space or visiting space."
As the inmate with the bullhorn announced the release process about 11:30 Monday night, he appealed to reporters:
"We're alone now. Don't let us down. We're depending on you. We responded to you, you responded to us, we appreciate that. The hostages are being released. There are no broken bones, and nobody is hurt."
Soon after the hostages had been released, a member of an ABC News team that had been allowed into the cell block reported that none of the hostages had suffered visible physical harm and that he did not know of any threats against them.
The ABC television camera crew and one reporter had been chosen at random and were the only outside observers allowed in Cell Block B. They made no broadcasts during the siege but planned to air film, at least of the release, today.
The first indication of a breakthrough in the tense situation came about 6 p.m. Monday when corrections officials announced they had reached a tentative agreement with four men said to be leaders of the group holding hostages.
"We have reached a stage where the things under discussion are agreeable to all sides, we believe," corrections department spokesman Lou Ganim said.
Ganim said the siege began after 200 inmates participated in a recreation period and one remained behind, yelling and breaking furniture in a hallway.
Officials said prisoners housed in Cell Block B were destined for other state prisons but, because of overcrowding, often had to wait as long as six months to be transferred.
One guard had been released with minor head injuries Sunday in exchange for prescription medicine for the inmates.
Early Monday, officials raised the number of hostages from 15, saying they had known 17 guards were in the cell block but initially thought two might be hiding. It was not clear whether the two had been found by inmates or whether officials had been wrong about their hiding.
Until word of the tentative agreement at the 55-acre site along the Hudson River 30 miles north of New York City, there had been virtually no contact between reporters and state officials.
At 7:30 a.m. Monday, Ganim read a statement from New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who said the state would not respond to any inmate requests until the hostages had been released.
Cuomo, dealing with his first major crisis since taking over the state house two weeks ago, monitored the situation from his office in Manhattan, Coughlin said.
Early this morning in Manhattan, Cuomo told a news conference: "We saved the hostages, but it did not cost us one particle of our authority for the future."
About 2 p.m. Monday, inmates threw mop handles, piping, electrical wire and prison guards' batons from the cell-block windows and unfurled a banner saying, "It's Over Tonight." Officials said the inmates apparently were armed only with items such as those thrown from the windows.
Another banner read, "We Don't Want Another Attica," a reference to the upstate prison where 43 inmates and hostages died in rioting in 1971.