U.S. inmates form prison strike for better correctional facility environments

Ava Riach, Business Manager

The national prison strike began August 21, 2018, with prisons in at least 17 states participating. The purpose of the strike was to bring attention to the condition of prisons and the labor practices in American prisons. This protest included work strikes, hunger strikes and sit ins. Inmates fought against companies and agencies that benefit from prisons and prison labor. The protest lasted over three weeks long and there were 10 demands.

The first day of the strike, Aug. 21, is the 47th anniversary of the death of George Jackson. Jackson was a member of the Black Panther Party who was shot by prison guards. According to History, The Black Panther Party, originally named the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was a “political organization founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to challenge police brutality against the African American community.”

“Inmates should have a voice and opinion because they’re humans too. More times than not, they’re treated as less when they shouldn’t be,” said Skylar Harvey, sophomore.

In California, inmates were voluntarily recruited to fight the state’s wildfire. They were paid one dollar an hour and two dollars a day. The use of inmates for cheap or for free is widely used in the U.S. because of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery but allows involuntary servitude as a part of a punishment for their crime. According to the Marshall Project, the average pay in state prisons is 20 cents an hour. In Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, inmates are not paid for their labor.

“Even though they can be chaotic, dramatic and lead to a lot of bad things for society, at any time where you have seen a lot of progress being made, somebody has to be the first one to do it. I think these are important things to happen even though some people don’t agree with the way they go down,” said Shavonne Hairston, social studies teacher.

This strike is in response to South Carolina’s prison riots at the Lee Correctional Institution. It was the largest prison strike in U.S. history being spread across 12 states in 2016.

During the riot, seven inmates were killed and at least 17 were seriously harmed. No prison guards were harmed during the event. It was the worst U.S. prison riot in a quarter century. Violence and understaffing are both significant problems within the U.S. prison system, with South Carolina being one of the worst in recent years. In the past two years, 10 former and current inmates have sued the Department of Corrections for personal injuries they sustained at the facility according to The Cut. Many of the lawsuits are because of the neglection to the violence between inmates by correctional officers.

Thousands of people in at least 20 prisons across the country are participating in the strike, with the Burnside County Prison in Nova Scotia, Canada, striking in solidarity. On the first day of the strike, over 200 immigrants currently detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington joined. On August 28, over 300 groups and organizations were standing in solidarity with the strike. People have been using the hashtags “#August21” and “#prisonstrike” to support the event on social media.

Some specific events within the strike include a hunger strike started by Heriberto Garcia, a 26-year-old in Folsom State Prison. He began Aug, 21 and recorded himself on a contraband smartphone and the video was posted to Twitter. As well as inmates at Hyde Correctional Institution in North Carolina, who made banners from bed sheets saying phrases along the lines of “Parole” and “Better Food.” They were hung on the yard fences during the first week of the strike. In Indiana, many inmates refused to eat beginning Aug. 27. After six days, there were still two who remained on strike. In Nevada, 18 prisoners refused to eat.

“I understand that you have broken the law and you have been convicted of a crime, so there should be some type of punishment. But you are still human, you deserve to be treated as such. I think we need to get back to trying to rehabilitate people instead of it being all about punishment,” said Hairston.

The strike came to an end Sept. 9, 2018, the 48th anniversary of the Attica Prison riot. This riot occurred at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. The riot left over 40 people dead. One of the key efforts after the riot will be on voting rights, says Eddie, prisoner and one of the organizers of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. Eddie, who has not given out his name to prevent retaliation from authorities according to The Guardian, has served 13 of an 18-year sentence for armed robbery in South Carolina. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 34 states bar citizens from voting based on past convictions. Anyone with a felony in Kentucky, Florida, or Iowa will not be allowed within the democratic process for life. Florida will be asking voters whether they want to give voting rights to people with felony convictions of who have fully served their sentence. There has been no reported action by prisons or states.

List of demands from inmates requesting various improvements for prison life.