Immigration Detainees Joined Prisoners Nationwide To Strike Against Living Conditions And Very Low Wages In Prisons
The U.S. has just experienced on of the largest prison strikes in U.S. history. People who are incarcerated in at least 17 prisons across the U.S. are protested their living and working conditions. From privatized prisons stacking humans in cells to prison systems replacing the U.S. Postal Service with companies that charge impossibly high fees to send an email, this strike matters.
Latinos are incarcerated 200 percent more often than non-Latino white folks and are often sentenced to more time than white offenders for the same crime. While that is an entirely separate issue based in racism and classism. However, the fact remains that there are Latinos in prison who likely wouldn’t be there for as long or at all if they were white.
The strike began on August 21, the 47th anniversary of Black Panther activist George Jackson’s death.
The strike was announced a week after the April 15 prison riot at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina. Seven inmates were killed and another 22 people were injured. The Lee riots were ignited as the result of substantiated correctional officer (CO) brutality. The brutality is well-documented in several lawsuits against the very same prison.
The strike ended on Sept. 12, but it is unclear is the strikes did anything to better conditions in the prisons.
The people incarcerated participated in work strikes, hunger strikes, peaceful sit-ins and spending boycotts. The protests were supposed to end on Sept. 9, the same day as the Attica prison riots. If you haven’t seen “Thirteen” yet, do yourself a favor and learn about the history of black slavery in the U.S. and how the latest systemization of subjugating minorities is all in the prison system.
The inmates are protesting what they’re calling “modern-day slavery.”
It’s no coincidence that you’re only seeing brown faces on these promotional materials. People of color have long been arrested and policed at disproportional levels in comparison to their white counterparts.
Many states can legally force prisoners to work without any compensation.
Most states require prisoners to work dangerous jobs, and when they are paid, the wages are very low. Just a couple weeks ago, The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) bragged via Twitter about it’s 2,000 “volunteer” inmate firefighters, including 58 youth offenders. The inmates were fighting dangerous wildfires for $1 an hour.
The program saves the state $90-$100 million a year. Despite their experience, the prisoners can’t get jobs as firefighters when they are released. That’s because California requires firefighter to be licenses emergency medical technicians (EMTs) but those with criminal records are often denied EMT licenses.
Detainees in immigration center joined in on the protest to call attention to ICE treatment and conditions.
Caption: “Up to 200 detained immigrants at Northwest Detention Center in Washington are on a work and hunger strike to protest forced labor. They join striking inmates in up to 17 prisons across the U.S. who are protesting sentencing laws, poor treatment and ‘prison slavery.'”
No. 1 on their list of demands: recognize humanity.
“Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.”
Second, they want “an immediate end to prison slavery.”
They want to immediately be paid the “prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.” What that means is most likely minimum wage, which would be a 5,300 percent increase in wages.
They also want the Prison Litigation Reform Act rescinded immediately.
The PLRA was enacted in 1996 as a means to prevent prisoners from litigating within prison. It also prevents prisoners from taking legal action “with respect to prison conditions” until “administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” It basically lets correctional officers and prison administration to regulate themselves.
Prisoners need our help in making sure their demands are heard.
Included in their demands are more funding for rehabilitation services.
“No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.”
Caption: “Putting in work for the workers on the inside. #PrisonStrike #PrisonStrike2018”
Top Democrats stayed quiet on the prison strike.
It’s shocking but it’s true. Democrats who claim to be all for prison reform, like California Senator Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker or Bernie Sanders have stayed silent.
Folks on the outside have rallied in support of the inmates, hoping to garner political attention.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is running for the Congress, is one of the only Democrats to say something substantive.
In a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez shared an article along with this statement, “Today begins a nationwide prison strike demanding humane conditions & end to prison slavery. The U.S. incarcerates more than any other nation in the world. To change, we must acknowledge the direct lineage that mass incarceration has to slavery & Jim Crow.”
Inmates are demanding that their voting rights never be taken from them as an American right.
It’s nauseating to find out that the reason convicted felons have their voting rights stripped is a living breathing Jim Crow law. This is how you continue to keep American politics white and how to keep brown and black people out of politics.
Even anarchists have made themselves known in favor of inmates rights.
Caption: “Anarchists represented for the #PrisonStrike last night in Brooklyn. Revolutionaries must keep up the pressure for the #PrisonRebels as the fight inside escalates!”
We don’t know how big the prison strike really is.
That’s largely because the administration is trying to silence the prisoners. As of August 28, the highlighted states have confirmed prison action thus far, ranging from North Carolina labor strikes to several prisons going on lockdown after initiating strikes.
Some prison systems did bow to some pressure from the strikes.
For inmates who have lost all ties to the life, family and world they built before being incarcerated, those 20 cents per minutes add up. Specifically, they add up to $25 saved per two hours of talking with their mami’s, esposos y hijos.
If you’re making $.14 an hour, that is gold.
We’re also seeing supporters get creative on the streets.
Prisoners of the state are modern day slave laborers. The most important thing we can do to support prisoners is to raise awareness of their plight. “Orange is the New Black” was a great start to getting Americans to see the humanity in inmates and the injustices of the prison system, but it’s time to wake up to make change in real life.
Some of the protests called for violence against the prisons.
Caption: “#PrisonStrike comes for the OkCupid billboards in Oakland.”
A report released on August 28 suspects that thousands of prisoners participated in 20 prisons, all the way to Canada.
On the first day of the strike, more than 200 immigrants who are currently detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, publicly announced they were joining the strike in solidarity.
The truth is that since the 2016 strike, America cares more about inmates than ever before.
One can only assume that this is the start of a larger prison reform movement. As the strike gets further in the rearview mirror, it will be telling to see how states adapt rules and laws around how prisoners are treated.