Inmates Strike Over Forced Labor, Demand Better Living Conditions

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Inmates strike against forced labor, and the movement has spread to more than 24 states. Friday, advocates announced that prisoners from several states would be taking part in a nationwide strike to protest conditions and wages behind bars.

The strike was launched on the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison riot that occurred at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York in 1971. The riot is one of the most well-known and significant uprisings of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement.

On September 9, 1971, two weeks after the killing of George Jackson at San Quentin State Prison, more than 1,000 of the inmates in Attica began a riot. The prisoners took control of the facility and held 42 staff officers hostage. After four days of negotiations, authorities did not comply with the list of demands made by the prisoners prompting chaos that left 43 dead.

Like the inmates at Attica Prison, those in prison today are demanding political rights and better living conditions. Male and female inmates from 24 states including Florida, South Carolina, and Texas and activists said they hope the strike will change the labor conditions that they compare to slavery.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons stated that prisoners at federal facilities earn between 12 and 40 cents an hour for their work, while state prisoners earn about 40 cents or less depending on the facility where they are incarcerated.

However, in several states including Texas and Arkansas inmates do not receive any money for their work. Melvin Ray, who is incarcerated at the WE Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, is a member of Free Alabama Movement, and he said:

“Work is good for anyone. The problem is that our work is producing services that we’re being charged for, that we don’t get any compensation from.”

The group led strike efforts, along with other prisoners, who are part of Free Ohio Movement, the Free Mississippi Movement, and the End Prison Slavery in Texas movement. Kinetik Justice, a founder of the Free Alabama Movement, who serves at the Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama, added:

“These strikes are our method for challenging mass incarceration, the effort to push for a coordinated strikes came after we understood that our incarceration was pretty much about our labor and the money that was being generated through the prison system, the prisoners, as a result, began organizing around our labor and used it as a means and a method in order to bring about reform in the Alabama prison system”.

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), one of the groups organizing the strike, said they have been planning this for months, and stated:

“This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery. They cannot run these facilities without us.”

The Alabama department of corrections indicated that they have 45 inmates taking part in the strike. According to activists, South Carolina prisoners have made their demands known, and they will not return to work until they are met. Authorities in two prisons in Florida have put their facilities on lockdown to prevent chaos.

In 2013, more than 30,000 inmates in California went on a hunger strike to protest their living conditions.

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