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Prisoners nationwide to go on strike in protest of 'prison slavery,' will refuse to work and eat

Prisoners nationwide will participate in a protest, beginning Tuesday and running through Sept. 9, against correctional facility conditions and "prison slavery." Inmates in at least 17 states reportedly plan to participate in the coordinated demonstrations. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

American prisoners will go on strike this week to demand wide-ranging living reforms in correctional facilities nationwide.

The protest, which is set to begin Tuesday and run through Sept. 9, is meant to mark the anniversary of the 1971 inmate uprising at Attica prison in upstate New York, which resulted in the deaths of 33 prisoners and 10 correctional officers.

What are the details?

According to Vox, inmates in at least 17 states plan to participate in the coordinated demonstrations. Most inmates will cease working their prison jobs while others will go on a "hunger strike," meaning they will abstain from eating for a certain period of time.

"Prisoners want to be valued as contributors to our society," protest organizer Amani Sawari told Vox.

During protest time, inmates will sit in common areas or remain in their cells.

"The main leverage that an inmate has is their own body," Sawari said. "Prisons cannot run without prisoners’ work."

The protest is being organized by Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a prisoner-led faction of Industrial Workers of the World. IWOC's mission is to "end prison slavery."

This year's protest is also meant to serve as a response to April's inmate riot at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina that resulted in the deaths of seven prisoners.

How bad are work conditions?

Most prisoners hold jobs while incarcerated, but are paid extremely low wages.

The Marshall Project found the average pay per inmate is just 20 cents per hour. Most inmates work menial jobs that fulfill essential prison operations, such as in the kitchen and custodial work. Others may teach fellow inmates or hold manufacturing jobs.

In California, more than 1,000 prison inmates have been deployed to fight wildfires — an extremely dangerous job even for highly seasoned wildland firefighters. They're paid $2 per day and an additional $1 an hour when battling active fires. They also earn time off their sentences.

The poor work conditions, in addition to the meager pay, amounts to "slavery," inmates claim.

What do inmates want?

They have released a list of 10 demands:

  • Immediate improvement of prison conditions, as well as policies that "recognize the humanity" of prisoners.
  • Immediate end to "prison slavery." Inmates are asking to be paid commensurate wages.
  • The rescission of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which would allow prisoners to adequately voice grievances.
  • The rescission of The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act so that inmates "have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole."
  • Immediate end of "overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials" of black inmates.
  • Immediate end to "racist gang enhancement laws."
  • Immediate end to inmates being "denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender."
  • Additional rehabilitation programs in state prisons.
  • The reinstatement of Pell Grants in all U.S. states and territories.
  • The restoration of voting rights for "all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called 'ex-felons.'"

Do prisoners really experience 'slavery'?

While the idea seems far-fetched, activists working to bring more attention to criminal justice reform point out that the very constitutional amendment that abolished slavery — the 13th Amendment, section 1 — allows prison labor to exist.

Read it yourself:

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.
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