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Inmates Strike: Forced Labor Protest Spreads in US Prisons

Image: Inmates Strike: Forced Labor Protest Spreads in US Prisons

President Barack Obama visited a federal prison in Oklahoma in July. (AP)

By    |   Monday, 12 Sep 2016 08:00 AM

A nationwide inmate strike over forced labor reportedly has spread to U.S. prisons in as many as 24 states. The protest started Friday, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison riots in New York. 

Prison rights advocates told The Guardian that the strike over conditions and wages is the "biggest of its kind" in the country's history and had been in making for several months.

The Florida Department of Corrections reported "disturbances" on Friday at the Gulf and Mayo Correctional Institutions, prompting lockdowns, said the Miami Herald.

A disturbance on Wednesday at Holmes Correctional, which lasted into Thursday morning, involved more than 400 inmates but no one was seriously injured. Department spokeswoman Michelle Glady said the system was placed on high alert Friday.

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, under the name of the Industrial Workers of the World union, announced a call to action in April.

"Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery," the group said. "The 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in U.S. prisons. It states 'neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.'"

"Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals."

Quartz said federal prisoners earn from 12 to 40 cents an hour for work while state prisoners in Texas do not receive any compensation. Prisoners perform cleaning jobs and cook inside jail.

Others do work for private companies like Victoria's Secret, Whole Foods, and Walmart, said Quartz. Wired magazine said 900,000 of America's 2.4 million prisoners work either jobs in prison or for the private sector.

"Work is good for anyone," said Melvin Ray, an inmate at the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, and a member of an organizing group named the Free Alabama Movement, according to Mother Jones magazine. "The problem is that our work is producing services that we're being charged for, that we don't get any compensation from."

Ray, who is serving a murder sentence, told Mother Jones the strike sought to raise awareness with prisoners "that not only do we have a significant role in our incarceration, we have a significant opportunity to bring about our own freedom."

Mother Jones said the movement circulated a pamphlet encouraging prisoners in each state to come up with their own condition demands.

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A nationwide inmate strike over forced labor reportedly has spread to U.S. prisons in as many as 24 states. The protest started Friday, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison riots in New York.
inmates, strike, forced, labor
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2016-00-12
Monday, 12 Sep 2016 08:00 AM
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