Murder on the Inside

The Deadly Riot at Kingston Penitentiary

Reviewed by Jessica Rose

Posted December 1, 2021

On April 14, 1971, the penitentiary at Kingston, Ontario, was overcrowded and severely understaffed. A small gang of disgruntled inmates seized this opportunity and instigated one of the largest prison riots Canada has ever seen. Taking six guards hostage, they demanded an end to dehumanizing incarceration conditions that included extreme isolation, severe punishments, and few rehabilitation programs.

The Kingston Penitentiary riot made headlines around the world, yet this pivotal moment in the history of rights for inmates in Canada has rarely been deconstructed. Released on the uprising’s fiftieth anniversary, Murder on the Inside, written by television producer Catherine Fogarty, brings readers inside the limestone fortress and chronicles the moments during which the non-violent protest turned bloody.

Her book is painstakingly researched — which is a considerable feat, given the large holes in the archival record and the fact that few key players have been willing to talk. A sublime storyteller, Fogarty expertly builds tension as convicts turn violent and armed soldiers stand ready to attack.

However, Murder on the Inside is much more than a prison drama. Set against the backdrop of political and social upheaval, it details the history of the Kingston Penitentiary and scrutinizes incarceration in Canada. Most importantly, it tells a gripping story of inmates who were determined to be treated like humans, not numbers.

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This article originally appeared in the December 2021-January 2022 issue of Canada's History.

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