Annex to the administration building at the Ohio Penitentiary, Columbus, Ohio, 1931.
On October 31, 1952, a riot erupted at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. It became known as the “Halloween Riot,” as it began on Halloween.
Throughout the late 1940s and the early 1950s, Ohio prisons increasingly faced overcrowding issues. Ohio prison officials increasingly had to care for more prisoners with little to no increase in funds. Prisoners increasingly turned to riots for improved conditions.
The reason for the Halloween Riot appears to have been prisoner unhappiness with the quality of food served to them. The riot began in one of the cafeterias, when several prisoners began banging on their cups with spoons. This was a signal to the wait staff to bring additional coffee. The warden, R.W. Alvis, reestablished order in this cafeteria, while, in another mess hall, prisoners began throwing food, trays, and other utensils. In this cafeteria, the warden and guards were unable to quell the disturbance.
Not all inmates participated in this riot. Many prisoners returned to their cells on their own. Some inmates formed roving gangs and attacked other prisoners. A number of inmates broke into the infirmary seeking drugs, while others began to set buildings ablaze.
By 10:00 PM, approximately five hours after the riot first began, a combined force of Ohio Highway Patrolmen, Columbus Police Officers, prison guards, and National Guardsmen had forced the rioters back into their cell-blocks. Unfortunately, prisoners in cell-blocks G, H, I, and K, remained in control of their respective cell-blocks. On November 3, law enforcement officials cut off all food and heat to the prisoners in these cell-blocks. Several inmates attempted to surrender, but other prisoners began to throw items out of their cell-block windows at police officers. The officers ordered the inmates to stop, but the prisoners refused. The officers opened fire, killing one prisoner and wounding four others. The rioters quickly surrendered and returned to their cells.