Prison inmates strike planned for Friday

Published: Sep. 8, 2016 at 12:56 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Incarcerated People Nationwide Refuse to Work in Largest Coordinated Prison Strike

Prisoners are demanding a rewrite of the 13th Amendment to #endprisonslavery

Today, incarcerated people at roughly 40 prisons in 24 states across the U.S. are initiating a work strike. Many prisons rely on inmate labor to run the facilities. Most prisons have additional work programs in which inmates produce goods and services for the government and private corporations. Incarcerated people are typically paid less than a dollar per hour for their labor, and sometimes nothing at all.

“The criminal justice system is a continuation of slavery,” said Robert Earl Council. Also known as Kinetik Justice, Council is a leader in the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), a network of incarcerated people spanning several prisons in Alabama. “The 13th Amendment freed the slaves and then put them to work in prisons,” Council said.

The 13th amendment abolished involuntary servitude but made an exception for people convicted of a crime. Prisoners nationwide are now unifying to demand a rewrite of that amendment in response to a call-to-action FAM made earlier this year.

Since 2013, FAM has organized numerous statewide acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to challenge the unjust prison economy and draw attention to the inhumane conditions inside Alabama’s prisons. FAM was inspired by Georgia prisoners who initiated work strikes in 2012, and a massive hunger strike California prisoners coordinated across numerous facilities in 2013.

FAM chose this date for a national strike to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion. Forty-three people were killed and many prisoners were tortured when New York state police stormed Attica after several days of intense negotiations with over 1,000 prisoners who took control of the prison on September 9, 1971. Their demands concerned many of the same problems that persist in prisons today.

“The reason they had that strike in Attica was the deplorable conditions,” said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, FAM’s “outside” spokesperson and founder of The Ordinary People Society. Glasgow served 14 years in prison and has worked to improve the criminal justice system since his release. “We are going to do it in a different way. Peacefully,” he said.

In addition to the national demand to rewrite the 13th amendment, prisoners in different locations will put forth demands specific to the problems within their state’s criminal justice system.

For example, in South Carolina, incarcerated people are calling for comprehensive mental health programs, GED programs, vocational training, drug treatment options, affordable commissary, in-person doctor visits instead of telemedicine, changes to disciplinary policies, and legislative changes to eliminate habitual offender sentencing, among other reforms.

“Until we see these changes, we will resist,” said a prisoner in Lee Correctional Institution who asked to be identified simply as SJ.

In Alabama, FAM is calling for a slate of legislative reforms that would reduce the number of people incarcerated in the state. Currently, Alabama prisons hold nearly twice as many people as they are designed for. As a result, the facilities are dangerously deteriorated, the food is inadequate, educational programs are virtually nonexistent, and violence is rampant.

Instead of considering the commonsense measures put forth by FAM, Alabama lawmakers have sought to spend $800 million on new prison construction.

There is currently no end-date to the national strike. It is up to prisoners in each facility to choose how long they continue to protest. Retaliation is expected, and may be harsher in some prisons than others. FAM has said that Alabama prisoners will strike for as long as it takes to have their demands met.