The inmates say they are protesting exploitative labor practices in correctional facilities. “Every single field and industry is affected on some level by prisons, from our license plates to the fast food that we eat, to the stores that we shop at,” said spokesperson Amani Sawari, adding that Americans “need to recognize how we are supporting the prison industrial complex through the dollars that we spend.”
Inmates in at least 17 states plan to refuse to work and, in some cases, refuse to eat to draw attention to poor prison conditions and what many view as exploitative labor practices in correctional facilities. The demonstrations are planned to start Tuesday and will continue to Sept. 9, which marks the anniversary of the bloody uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York state, reports Vox.com.
“Prisoners want to be valued as contributors to our society,” said Amani Sawari, a spokesperson for the protests. “Every single field and industry is affected on some level by prisons, from our license plates to the fast food that we eat to the stores that we shop at.
“So we really need to recognize how we are supporting the prison industrial complex through the dollars that we spend.”
Prison labor issues have received attention in California, where inmates have been voluntarily recruited to fight the state’s record wildfires for the paltry pay of just $1 an hour plus $2 per day. The practice of using prison inmates for cheap or free labor is fairly widespread, due to an exemption in the 13th Amendment, which abolished chattel slavery but allows involuntary servitude as part of a punishment for a crime.
For Sawari and the inmates participating in the protests, the sometimes forced labor and poor pay is effectively “modern slavery.”
That, along with poor prison conditions that inmates blame for a deadly South Carolina prison riot this year, have led to protests. Fixing the problems raised by the demonstrations will require money, something that cash-strapped state governments may not be willing to put up.
The strike comes two years after the largest prison strike in U.S. history, with protests in at least 12 states in 2016. Over 24,000 prisoners took part. The new demonstrations could end up even larger than those previous protests.
The inmates will take part in work strikes, hunger strikes, and sit-ins. They are calling for boycotts against agencies and companies that benefit from prisons and prison labor.
While 2016’s protests were largely planned for just Sept. 9 (the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising), they ended taking place over weeks or months as prison officials tried to tamp down the demonstrations and mitigate the effects of the protests. This year, the protests are spread out over three weeks to make it more difficult for officials to crack down.
The inmates have outlined 10 national demands. They include “immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons” and “an immediate end to prison slavery.”