Prisoners all over the country are going on strike to protest forced labor and inequality.
According to a press release posted on Twitter, the strike will take place in over 17 states around the country starting on August 21 and ending September 9.
The protests were originally meant to take place during the anniversary of the Attica prison riots, but a similar protest in 2016 took place over the course of one day, which allowed prison administration shut down facilities, effectively stopping the protest.
This year, the protests will be spread over three weeks, making it more difficult for the administration to shut down the facilities. Amani Sawari, a spokesperson for the protest, explained the reasoning behind the strikes.
“Prisoners want to be valued as contributors to our society,” Sawari said during an interview with Vox. “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.”
The prisoners laid out ten demands for reform. Some of the more notable demands are being paid minimum wage for their work, access to rehabilitation, and reinstated voting rights. They will strike by refusing to work or eat. Some are also planning sit-ins.
NATIONAL PRISON STRIKE AUGUST 21-SEPTEMBER 9TH, 2018 pic.twitter.com/Mzbb4e96yp
— Jailhouse Lawyers Speak #August21 (@JailLawSpeak) April 24, 2018
“The main leverage that an inmate has is their own body,” said Sawari. “If they choose not to go to work and just sit in in the main area or the eating area, and all the prisoners choose to sit there and not go to the kitchen for lunchtime or dinnertime, if they choose not to clean or do the yardwork, this is the leverage that they have. Prisons cannot run without prisoners’ work.”
Companies, such as Victoria’s Secret, use inmate labor as a cheaper option, given that their wages only amount to a few dollars a day. Another report was released showing that some prisoners were fighting the California wildfires for $1 an hour.
While slavery was abolished with the 13th Amendment, some are claiming that involuntary servitude is a form of slavery. However, there have been reports showing that working while in prison gives inmates a higher chance of employment once they were released.
“Prison slavery exists,” Sawari said. “The 13th Amendment didn’t abolish slavery. It wrote slavery into the Constitution. There’s a general knowledge that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, but if you read it, there’s an exception clause in the abolishing of it. That’s really contradictory — that something would be abolished and there would be an exception to that.”
There have been no reports that these protests will be violent and the groups organizing them hope that they will change the current system.