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US Inmates’ Against 'Modern Slavery': Possible Outcomes of the National Prison Strike
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US Inmates’ Against 'Modern Slavery': Possible Outcomes of the National Prison Strike

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SOUTH CAROLINA — August 22, 2018

The demonstrations started yesterday and are expected continue until September, 9. Organizers say the demonstrations include hunger strikes and a refusal to work. The action comes in response to a riot in April at South Carolina's Lee Correctional Institution in which seven inmates were killed.

"Rebels incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives when prison officials turned their backs on a riot they provoked. We are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery." Reads the statement of one of the inmates.

"Prisons cannot run without prisoners' work. The main leverage that an inmate has is their own body" protest spokesperson Amani Sawari adds.

Another reason for the strike is that many prisoners are forced to perform what is essentially slave labor. For example, during the fires in California, the authorities decided to hire inmates as firefighters for as little as $ 2 per day, or $ 1 per hour in an emergency. The practice of using prisoners for cheap or free labor is quite widespread in the US due to their exemption from the 13th Amendment which technically abolishes slavery, but allows forced labor as part of a punishment for a crime.

"More than 3,000 felon volunteer firefighters are performing the hard and dangerous labor. They’re clearing brush and digging lines for the Ferguson, Carr and Mendocino Complex fires, which have torched a combined 577,000 acres of California land in another historic season," said about it Cal Fire spokesman Lynne Tolmachoff.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t take into the fact account that these alleged “volunteers” essentially have no choice in the matter as prison inmates.

Former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said in response that this work “tantamount to slave labor.”

“At this point, they’re being paid $1 an hour for fighting these ferocious fires — that’s outrageous,” she said.

In addition, no one in the state can provide them with feasible medical care in emergency situations.

For Sawari and the prisoners that have taken part in the protests, the forced labor and poor wages are effectively "modern slavery."

Inmates at federal, immigration and state prisons are expected to join the strike. Protests were planned in at least 17 States, and have already begun in South Carolina, Louisiana, Washington and North Carolina, as well as Canada, according to the Kite Line Radio.

The expected dates of the strike, Aug. 21-Sept. 9, are dates that carry important symbolism.

Tuesday is "the 47th anniversary of the death of the prominent Black Panther member, George Jackson, who was shot as he tried to escape in the prison yard of San Quentin in California and the Attica prison uprising which kicked off in response, September, 9. It is our official final day of the protests," Sawari said.

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, one of the groups organizing the strike, called the Lee riot "a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration."

As for the latest incident at South Carolina's Lee Correctional Institution, the riot lasted for hours, and dozens were killed or injured.

John Bacon and Tim Smith reported on other incidents at Lee Correctional:

"The prison, which opened 25 years ago and holds about 1,700 of some of South Carolina’s most violent offenders, is no stranger to violence. Three weeks ago, inmates overpowered a guard, holding him hostage and taking control of part of a dorm for about 90 minutes. (...) The guard was released uninjured. In February, one inmate fatally stabbed another. (...) The prison is about 50 miles east of Columbia. The state capital is home to the Kirkland Correctional Institution, where four inmates were fatally strangled a year ago. One of the two inmates accused of the crime said he killed them so he would be moved to death row."

"The director of the state's Department of Corrections, Bryan Stirling, has pointed to contraband cellphones as a contributing factor, if not the main cause, of the outbreak of violence," South Carolina Public Radio has reported.

"Our collective message to prisoners, stop the violence against each other. Regardless of race, class or label, we are one," Jailhouse Lawyers Speak said in a statement.

The protesters have issued 10 demands including 'immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons', and putting an 'end to prison slavery'. The protesters believe that while they under United States jurisdiction, they 'must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.'

According to the Marshall Project, "the average pay for a prisoner working a job in a state prison facility is 20 cents an hour."

"Prisoners want to be valued as contributors to our society," Sawari said. "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."

In addition, the protesters are demanding a review of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act.

They ask to 'end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials for Black and brown people.’

According to the FBI data, black people account for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the US population. These disparities in police use of force reflect more widespread racial inequities across the entire American criminal justice system. Black people are much more likely to be arrested for drugs, even though they're not more likely to use or sell them, and black inmates make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population.

The prisoners insist that inmates not be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

More than 2.1 million people were incarcerated in the U.S. in 2016, the most recent year available, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Correctional Health Care, about 21 percent of male prison inmates during a six-month period are physically assaulted and between 2 and 5 percent are sexually assaulted.

The question is: will the protesters be able to achieve anything? In all honestly, probably not. They may be promised a good, high-quality life, but in fact, everything will end up being exactly as it was before. On the other hand, if we are talking about rapists and murderers, how can such people be expected to be given  more rights than they already have now?

Author: USA Really