Inmates in at least 17 states begin massive labor strike, calling conditions modern-day slavery
According to the Guardian, August 21st marks the beginning of a nineteen-day protest and labor stoppage across the prison populations of American prisons in at least 17 states. The protest, which has largely been organized by the prisoners themselves, is designed to disrupt the system of unpaid labor many prisons in America rely upon to stay in working order.
At the center of the strike is a group called Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, comprised of incarcerated people who provide assistance and legal training to other incarcerated people.
The group released a statement declaring that the strike is a direct response to the riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina earlier this year. In that incident, 7 people were killed and South Carolina governor Henry McMaster blamed prisoner access to “contraband cellphones” and violent inmates for the riot.
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak has a different source for the issues which led to a riot in April, as they put forth in their letter:
Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.
The letter specifies a number of demands, including an “immediate improvement to the conditions of prisons and prison policies which recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women,” and a call for prison labor to be subject to the same wage rate as their free world counterparts.
The group also calls for “an immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans,” and to “racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.”
The strike will last from August 21st until September 9th. According to the statement released by the group for public release, it will have many facets: worker strikes, which will be determined by each place of detention and may even include a list of prison-specific demands to improve conditions and reduce harm; sit-ins, which will occur at certain prisons but not all; boycotts, during which time spending inside the prisons should be stopped; and hunger strikes.
Jailhouse Lawyers Speaks asks that those on the outside force the nation to look at their demands by contacting state, federal and local officials and asking them directly where they stand on the issues. They also ask for people to be prepared to make additional contact with incarcerated people and their families and prisoner support organizations in order to help notify the public and media organizations of strike conditions. Those who wish to help spread the word should be prepared to help initiatives designed to ensure the votes of people in jails and prisons counted in local, state and national elections.
As a pre-strike statement from the group reads:
Fundamentally, it’s a human rights issue. Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. We know that our conditions are causing physical harm and deaths that could be avoided if prison policy makers actually gave a damn. Prisons in America are a warzone. Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement. For some of us it’s as if we are already dead. So what do we have to lose? South Carolina is only a reflection of the issues facing other states and governmental buildings of confinement. This is a systematic problem born out of slavery that this nation must come to grips with and address. Our protest cry rallies around 10 national demands. We ask that even after September 9, you continue to lobby these demands that we are calling for a solution. We will continue to organize around these demands further into the future until they are met.