5 Things You Need to Know About the Largest Prison Strike in U.S. History

Photo: The joint resolution proposing the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified December 6, 1865, and abolished slavery, except as punishment for a crime. National Archives

What is happening in the United States prisons?

On September 9, 2016, more than 24,000 inmates from at least 29 prisons in 12 states staged the largest coordinated work strike in United States history to mark the 45th anniversary of the violent uprising at Attica prison.

Despite the fact that it is illegal to organize prison strikes, it continues to this day. This past weekend, a group of guards at William C. Holman Correctional Institute in Atmore, Alabama, joined the strike in solidarity with the prisoners.

How did the strike begin?

A group of inmates at Holman, organized as the Free Alabama Movement (F.A.M.), organized the Nationwide Prison Workstrikes, Boycotts and International Protests in solidarity with ongoing strikes at Florida, South Carolina, and Texas as a call to action against slavery in America.

Is slavery still legal in the United States?

Yes. It was never outlawed. The 13th Amendment of the Constitution, ratified in 1865, declared, “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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

According to the 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 700,000 prisoners have jobs helping to run the prison, while an additional 60,000 inmates participate in “correctional industries” programs, which mimic real-world jobs.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay, while corporations profit. On average, prisoners work 8 hours a day, making between .23 and $1.15 per hour. Up to 80&% of wages can be withheld to pay for the prisoners’ room and board. States including Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas do not pay inmates anything at all.

At the same time, the government provides tax credits to corporations that employ prisoners, in excess of millions of dollars a year. Corporations reported to use prison labor, both past and present, include Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, AT&T, Whole Foods suppliers, and the U.S. military, among many others. Strike organizers point out that this is not a problem for inmates alone, noting that the use of prison labor takes jobs away from the American workforce.

What are the prisoners’ demands?

Instead of creating a single list of nationwide demands, organizers have decided to allow each state prison group issue their own. While the demands vary, the unifying factors include fair pay, humane living conditions, and better access to education and rehabilitation programs. By way of example, F.A.M. has organized the Alabama Freedom Bill.

What are the prisoners’ tactics?

Inmates are employing non-violent protests, work stoppages, hunger strikes, and refusal to participate in prison routines. They have also set up websites to release information to the public about how they can support the movement, including the IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and Free Alabama Movement. Although it is illegal, they have also set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as a YouTube channel to reach the outside world.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.