The riot at Strangeways was a catalyst for prison reform, an ex-inmate said on the 20th anniversary of the uprising.
Paul Taylor, who helped to spark the riot on 1 April 1990, said the 25-day struggle persuaded the government to improve conditions for all prisoners.
He claimed inmates' resentment at "decades" of brutality turned a planned peaceful sit-in into a full-scale riot.
Governor at the time Brendan O'Friel said major improvements had been made in the three years before the riot.
Mr Taylor was 28 years old at the time of the uprising at the Manchester jail, which left two men dead and caused more than £60m of damage.
Prisoner David White, 46, died as a result of injuries sustained during the rioting. Prison officer Walter Scott died after suffering a heart attack.
Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It wasn't so much the physical conditions in which we were forced to live that sparked the confrontation.
"It was the brutality of officers towards prisoners over decades that had incited prisoners that day, when they were confronted by staff, to retaliate."
Mr Taylor said the riot succeeded in changing government policy, and led to prisoners being treated in a more humane and civilised way.
'Set process back'
But he said he believed riots were now "counter-productive" to reform.
Mr O'Friel, the governor of Strangeways at the time said that, while conditions at the jail had been in "serious" need of improvement, changes made over the preceding three years had been acknowledged in a report only a week before the riot broke out.
"What the prisoners did was they set the whole process back for years," he said.
Following the riot the prison was gutted and rebuilt at a cost of £55m.
"Prisoners suffered intolerably in police cells and other overcrowded establishments for several years after the riot as a direct result of what was done," said Mr O'Friel.