Atlanta prison riots

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Atlanta prison riot
Date November 1987
Location United States Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia
Caused by Announcement that Cuban citizens could be repatriated back to Cuba
Methods Hostage taking
Parties to the civil conflict
Cuban detainees
Death(s) 1
Injuries 23

The Atlanta prison riots were a series of prison riots that occurred at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, USA in November 1987. The riot coincided with a similar riot at the Federal Detention Center in Oakdale, Louisiana.


On November 10, 1987, the U.S. State Department announced that Cuba had agreed to reinstate a 1984 accord that would permit the repatriation of up to 2,500 Cuban nationals. Included would be Cubans who had fled in the 1980 Mariel boatlift but who, once released on "immigration parole," had been convicted of a crime and were now detained in one of two Federal prisons. A State Department spokesman indicated that the Federal Bureau of Prisons was not notified of the pending agreement due to concerns about premature disclosure of the agreement.[1]


Three days after the announcement, the detainees seized control of the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta. Their principal demand was that they not be repatriated to Cuba. The uprising lasted 11 days, involved more than 100 hostages, and burned down a substantial portion of the facility.[2]

During the riot, a single Cuban inmate was killed by a Correctional Officer. According to a prison spokesman, the officer shot the inmate to protect a fellow officer.[1]

The Atlanta FBI, led by Weldon L. Kennedy, was called in to handle the negotiations and gather intel. After the hostage situation was identified, Special Operations soldiers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were sent to advise the civilian law enforcement authorities.[3]

Following negotiations, the majority of inmates voted to a surrender agreement on December 4, and the remaining hostages were released.[1]

Of particular concern to the Federal Bureau of Prisons during the riots was the whereabouts of inmate Thomas Silverstein, who was serving a life sentence at USP Atlanta in an isolation cell, following his murder of Federal Prison Guard Merle E. Clutts, at USP Marion, in October 1983. The Cubans ultimately were able to drug Silverstein, who was loose among the prisoner population during the riots, and turn him over to the authorities while negotiations to end the riots were still ongoing.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Behind the Prison Riots: Precautions Not Taken, by Robert Pear The New York Times December 6, 1987
  2. ^ NCJRS page on riots
  3. ^ Military Hostage Specialists Sent to Help FBI at Atlanta Prison, by Robert Pear The New York Times November 26, 1987
  4. ^ Earley, Pete (1992). The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison. New York: Bantam Books. pp. 121–123. ISBN 0-553-07573-X.