People incarcerated across US & Canada strike to demand humane living conditions & end to labour rights abuses

People incarcerated across the United States and Canada have declared a strike in response to the deaths of seven people during a riot in a maximum security prison in South Carolina in April 2018, and to demand improved living conditions, greater access to resources and an end to what prisoners are calling “modern day slavery.” The strike will take place from 21 August - 9 September 2018 and includes work and hunger strikes, sit ins, and boycotts. The ten demands are available here and include an end to racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans; paying people imprisoned the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labour; and ensuring voting rights.

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Article
26 August 2018

Prison strike organizers aim to improve conditions & pay

Author: Mitch Smith, The New York Times

[A] nationwide prisoner strike [is calling] attention to the low inmate wages, decrepit facilities and harsh sentences that organizers say plague prison populations across the country. Though it is unclear how widespread such demonstrations have been, activists said they had shown a new ability to reach inmates across state lines at a time when prison unrest and in-custody deaths are frequently in the news... Much of the recent activism has focused on inmate pay, which can range from nothing at all in states like South Carolina and Texas to, at best, a few dollars for a day of hard labor in other places... The current pay leaves many prisoners struggling to afford phone calls to family members or toothpaste and deodorant from the commissary, experts said. Even after years of hard work inside, they frequently have little or nothing saved to help with rent or other necessities when they are released.

... [A] spokeswoman for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a group organizing the strike... said inmates in several states planned to participate in the strike, which started last week and is scheduled to run through Sept. 9. In addition to increased pay and better living conditions, strikers were calling for changes to sentencing laws and expanded access to rehabilitation and educational opportunities for inmates, among other requests... Officials in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New York and South Carolina, where protest activity had either been reported or rumored, all denied on Sunday that anything was amiss at their facilities. Officials in Ohio, New Mexico and at the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to requests for comment.

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Article
23 August 2018

Major prison strike spreads across US & Canada as inmates refuse food

Author: Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

A prison strike has begun to take hold in custodial institutions across North America, with reports of sporadic protest action from California and Washington state to the eastern seaboard as far south as Florida and up to Nova Scotia in Canada... The 19-day strike is the first such nationwide action in the US in two years and was triggered by April’s rioting in Lee correctional institution in South Carolina in which seven inmates were killed... One of the intentions of the organisers of the current dispute is to bring to public attention the spate of deaths in custody... In Mississippi, 10 inmates have died in their cells in the past three weeks alone, with no firm indication of their causes of death.

In addition to loss of life, the strikers, led by a network of incarcerated activists who call themselves Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, have put out a set of 10 demands to overhaul America’s creaking penal system. High up on the list is an end to forced or underpaid labor that the protesters call a form of modern slavery... Other demands laid down by the strikers include more investment in rehabilitation services and better medical treatment for mentally-ill prisoners... Advocacy groups such as the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee stressed that given the nature of high-security prisons, much of the activity involved in the strike could take days to reach the outside world if it gets out at all.

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Article
22 August 2018

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee statement to the press

Author: Prison Strike Media Team

[T]he prisoner strike has been underway for more than 24 hours now. In the first day we got word of actions coming out from the prisons from Halifax, Nova Scotia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington and Folsom Prison in California reported strike action... We also really want to remind the media that this strike is about ten different demands. While prison slavery has become a galvanizing force in the public eye, and it is a key element that prisoners are protesting against, they have given you ten specific demands and it is important to talk about all of them or report on them individually. People need to understand how truth in sentencing laws function, how gang enhancement laws function, and how the prison litigation reform act works and why these are things that prisoners are targeting their protest around. We need to be talking about the lack of rehabilitation programs, mental health care, and the lack of education programs and how this undermines the ostensibly rehabilitative nature of the prison system itself. Prisoners crafted these demands carefully through national organizing, based on the circumstances of the Lee Prison violence that occurred earlier this year, in an understanding of how the state brings about the conditions of violence like that, and the types of changes that are necessary to prevent that sort of violence from recurring. This is a human rights campaign and each of these demands should be understood through a human rights lens.

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Article
21 August 2018

US inmates nationwide strike to protest 'modern slavery'

Author: BBC

Incarcerated men and women in at least 17 states across the US have begun one of the country's largest prison strikes in history... From 21 August to 9 September, inmates nationwide will abandon their work duties - and some may even abandon food - to call attention to what they view as the exploitative conditions of American prisons... Organisers from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) said in a statement that prisoners believe they are "being treated like 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?"

... Prison labour... has seen increased media attention in California recently, as inmates have been fighting wildfires across the state. These volunteer firefighters are paid just $1 an hour... Across the US, prisoners work for similarly low wages - which many activists have called out as a practice akin to slavery. The US constitution outlaws slavery, but not involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. "Prisoners are a uniquely vulnerable workforce," David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project, told the BBC. "They are not protected by occupational health and safety laws that protect all other workers. If they're injured or killed on the job, in most states they're not protected by workers' compensation. So this creates a situation where the usual checks on employer exploitation and abuse simply don't operate."

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