U.S. NEWS

Prisoners Stage Nationwide Protest Against 'Modern Day Slavery'

They want better conditions, minimum wage payment for prison labor, sentencing reform and more rehabilitation services.

Prisoners nationwide launched a two-week strike on Tuesday in protest of “modern day slavery,” according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

Participating prisoners will not report to assigned jobs. Instead, they plan to engage in peaceful sit-ins, stop spending and go on a hunger strike, according to a press release by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the prisoner advocacy group that initiated the protest.

It’s unclear exactly how many prisoners are taking part in the protest.

The protesters have released a set of 10 demands, including better conditions, minimum wage payment for prison labor, sentencing reform and more rehabilitation services.

The first day of the strike marks the anniversary of the death of black activist and author George Jackson. Jackson was killed by a prison guard in 1971 after he took guards and inmates hostage in an attempted escape from California’s San Quentin State Prison. 

The protest is scheduled to last until Sept. 9, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica Prison riots in New York ― when nearly half of the 2,200 inmates took control over the prison, took 42 prison staff hostage and made a list of demands. Negotiations broke down four days later, and the governor ordered state police to regain control of Attica Prison. The incident resulted in the deaths of 29 prisoners and 10 hostages.

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak said the current protest is aimed at increasing public awareness of exploitative prison conditions.

“Fundamentally, it’s a human rights issue,” the group said in a statement earlier this month. “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.”

Protesting prisoners who refuse to carry out duties may be punished with solitary confinement or other methods. The ACLU Prison Project urged officers not to respond with retaliation.

“The ACLU shares the Nationwide Prison Strike’s vision of dismantling mass incarceration,” Udi Ofer, director of ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said Tuesday in a statement. “Peaceful demonstrations challenging unjust conditions and practices do not merit placing participants into solitary confinement or adding time to their sentences.”

In April, a dispute between prison gangs in South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution escalated into a riot that left seven dead and 17 injured. The correctional officers were criticized for their inaction in stopping the fight. 

This strike also comes amid concern over the more than 2,000 California prisoners who are helping to combat the state’s enormous wildfires. The volunteer inmate firefighters earn $2 a day plus $1 an hour, in addition to time off their sentences.

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