Seventeen prisons across the U.S. announced today a nationwide strike to protest for better living conditions, access to rehabilitation and an end to forced prison labor. The strike comes in response to riots in Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina.
“Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology,” the anonymous leaders of the strike articulated in their press release.
Al Jazeera reports the riots in Lee Correctional Institution were initiated by gang-related tensions and exasperated by poor living conditions. Witnesses said bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other.”
According to the statement, the newly announced strike will include work strikes, sit-ins, and boycotts from all purchases at the commissary and hunger strikes.
“Fundamentally, it’s a human rights issue. Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. Prisons in America are a warzone. Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement. For some of us it’s as if we are already dead, so what do we have to lose?”
Clint Smith, author of Counting Descent, and a Harvard Ph.D. candidate studying incarceration tweeted today the news of the prison labor strike, saying that it “has the potential to be the largest prison strike in US history.”
The inmates asked the public for support with their demands. In their statement, they asked the general public to reach out to incarcerated friends and family they may know to encourage them to join the strike, as well as to spread the word in public life, and contact their government representatives to give voice their demands.
“There are a lot of peaceful protests that go unspoken outside the prison walls,” said Kevin Steele to Al Jazeera. Steel, 25, was recently released and now serves as the spokesperson for the New York chapter of Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC). He explained that prison strikes often fail to get attention from the public, partly because inmates are seldom seen as non-violent.
“The message that they are trying to send out is that they are human beings, that they also have human rights, too, and they shouldn’t be treated as animals,” said Steele. “They just want a voice an opportunity to be treated equally as everyone else is.”
Many groups have endorsed the strike including Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS), The National Lawyers Guild, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, and the Democratic Socialists of America.
Long-term goals of the strike include “improving living conditions, reinstating voting rights for inmates, reforming laws that lead to the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, and an end to life imprisonment without parole,” reports The Guardian.