“This is a call to end slavery”
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Amid stories of oxygen leaking out of the atmosphere, an impending presidential debate, and Brangelina getting divorced, one story has managed to slip under the radar. Since September 9, a nationwide prison strike has been gaining traction with inmates staging protests and refusing to work in an effort to raise awareness about low wages and poor working conditions within prisons.
According to Mother Jones, at least 29 prisons in 12 states have joined the strike, bringing the total number of inmates who’ve missed work up to 24,000. One group helping organize the strike, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, outlined the reason behind the protest in a blog post:
“Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons… Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.”
So far, at the Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, 400 prisoners spent several hours marching peacefully in the prison yard while others refused to do kitchen duty. At the William C. Holman Correctional Institute in Alabama, several inmates refused to work, though reportedly returned to their usual schedule the following day. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee released a list of demands from South Carolina inmates on Facebook, including a plea for fair wages, free GED classes, an end to extremely inflated vending machine prices, and rehabilitation programs that actually rehabilitate prisoners.
It seems prisoners have been able to stay organized and communicate using social media and smuggled cell phones. Besides Mother Jones, The Intercept, and cannabis culture website High Times, few media outlets have devoted energy to covering this monumental strike. While last month’s federal Justice Department decision to end contracts with private prisons did bring some attention to the deplorable conditions within prisons, little has been done to bring immediate change to the system. Hopefully a strike as pervasive as this most recent one will bring some much-needed attention to a serious problem currently facing the American justice system.