Nationwide prison strike begins

Barrington M. Salmon, Contributing Writer, Black Press USA | 8/27/2018, 4:39 p.m.
Aug. 21, prisoners in at least 17 states told citizens that they want be counted and treated better.
Empty jail cell, prison John McAfee/CNN

Aug. 21, prisoners in at least 17 states told citizens that they want be counted and treated better.

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee declared a Nationwide Prison Strike from Aug. 21 to Sept. 9. The beginning of the strike marked the anniversary of the 1971 Attica Correctional Facility uprising.

Prisoners are demanding a series of changes to the prison system.

The committee lists 10 demands, including being paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor; an end to overcharging, oversentencing and parole denials of Black and Brown inmates; the rescinding of the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the Truth in Sentencing Act; rehabilitation programs made available for all inmates; and improved prison conditions.

During the prison strike, inmates will engage in work strikes (not reporting to assigned jobs), sit-ins, boycotts and hunger strikes.

Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, said the United States has a long history of dehumanizing inmates and it is rooted in racial oppression, and he wants the country to listen.

“Through the Nationwide Prison Strike, the committee and its allies are forcefully protesting conditions that affect the lives of 2.2 million people who are locked up, their families and their communities,” said Turner in a statement. “These are conditions that the American public has neglected —malignly—for years. Different from other elements of justice reform where people can see evidence that undermines the flawed assumptions that the system is working—videos of police brutality, imposition of bail in public courtrooms—most people are blind when it comes to prison conditions. What happens behind those gray walls is obscured from public view? This is what the committee is telling us.”

The committee pointed to major corporations using prisoners as a form of cheap labor to produce their products instead of giving jobs to free citizens in the U.S. or taking employment overseas. They also cite prisoners being paid as little as eight cents, or nothing at all, for work, including fighting fires.

Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Campaign for Smart Justice, said her organization stands behind the strike and what it represents.

“The courageous people who are bringing focused attention to America’s system of mass incarceration through the Nationwide Prison Strike deserve our admiration,” stated Ofer. “The ACLU supports the demands of the Nationwide Prison Strike, including the demand for a right to vote. Our country is stronger when people most marginalized and directly impacted by unjust policies raise their voices in protest and demand a different future.”