Ohio Penitentiary Riot (1968)

From Ohio History Central
Ohio Penitentiary Death House.jpg
Exterior view of the Death House at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio, ca. 1969-1970. Beginning in 1885 sentences of capital punishment were carried out at the Penitentiary. This building was built in 1913 specifically to house the electric chair and inmates who were sentenced to death.

On August 20, 1968, prisoners at the Ohio Penitentiary rioted. Inmates in cell blocks C and D took nine guards prisoner. The inmates proceeded to riot, setting several buildings on fire and stealing from the cafeteria, the commissary, and the prison hospital.

The inmates quickly delivered a list of their demands to the warden. Among these demands were a call for several guards to be fired, amnesty for the rioters, and a presentation of the rioters’ grievances to the media.

The warden agreed to allow the prisoners to speak with media members, but he quickly ended the news conference when violence erupted among the rioters. The inmates then threatened to burn the nine hostages alive. They also warned prison officials that they were willing to decapitate one of the guards, although they stated that they would free the hostages if the prisoners’ demands appeared in the newspaper.

The Ohio Highway Patrol, prison guards, National Guardsmen, and the Columbus Police planned a rescue attempt for August 20, but it became too late in the day for the law officers to carry out the plan. Negotiations continued the remainder of August 20, but the situation continued to deteriorate. At approximately 12:00 PM on August 21, an inmate stabbed another inmate, and officers decided to react. At 2:50 PM, police stormed the cellblocks. The prisoners kept the hostages on the top level of the prison. The rescue team blasted a hole in the prison’s roof and freed the hostages, while other officers blasted another hole in one of the prison's walls and fought their way up from the ground floor. Another detachment of officers regained control of cellblocks C and D from the prisoners, ending the riot. Five inmates died in the riots, while five additional prisoners and seven officers were injured.

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