Tuesday marked the first day that prison inmates across the country went on strike in an attempt to end what they called “modern-day slavery.”
Inmates take on jobs, such as mopping or “the essential work needed to run the prisons,” but are only paid “pennies an hour, or even nothing at all,” according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee‘s website.
The IWOC recognizes that when the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it did not do away with forced labor as form of punishment for crime: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
However, the group claims to be “working to abolish prison slavery and this system that does not correct anyone or make our communities safer.”
The website also lists 10 specific “demands” inmates are striking over. Some of those include: improvement to prison conditions and policies, immediate end to “prison slavery,” advocating for more rehabilitation services, an end to racism and ensuring voter’s rights.
The strike is being headed up by a group called Jailhouse Lawyers Speak.
NATIONAL PRISON STRIKE AUGUST 21-SEPTEMBER 9TH, 2018 pic.twitter.com/Mzbb4e96yp
— Jailhouse Lawyers Speak — #PrisonersHumanRights (@JailLawSpeak) April 24, 2018
Aug. 21 was specifically chosen because it is the anniversary of African-American activist George Jackson’s death. In 1971, Jackson “was killed by a guard after taking guards and two inmates hostage in a bid to escape from San Quentin State Prison in California,” USA Today reported.
The last day of the strike will be on Sept. 9. On this day in 1971, nearly 40 people were killed when police tried to regain control of New York prisons during the Attica Prison riots.
As part of the strike, inmates will refrain from normal activities, depending on their location and status in the prison. For example, some will not work, while others will just not spend any money at the commissary, to limit the amount of revenue the prison takes in.
Others may participate by “doing a sit-in,” and sitting quietly in place.
The strike was initiated after a riot took place at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina on Apr. 15.
This riot was started over money and territory, according to CBS News. At least 17 were severely injured.
“Initially, a strike was planned for 2019, but the Lee prisoners wanted a now-response. We want to make sure that things like this don’t happen in the future,” a spokesperson for the strike told USA Today.
Lea Johnson, a professor of law at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, said, “If the strike is widespread enough, it could be effective.”
Prisoners in at least 17 states are participating in this two-week strike.
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