The Stream

Why are US prisoners going on strike?

Inmates set to hold work stoppages, hunger strikes, and sit-in protests in massive nationwide action.

Inmates in prisons across the United States are preparing to take part in a national protest aimed at bringing urgent reform to a system they say abuses and exploits them.

The National Prisoners Strike kicks off on August 21 and is expected to run for 20 days. The strike is being led by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates, and is supported by several other pro-reform groups. The action was first called in April, following a riot at a state prison facility in South Carolina in which seven inmates died.

Among the demands of protesters are “immediate” improvements to prison conditions, that fair wages be paid to inmates for their labour, the possibility of parole for all prisoners, and the restoration of voting rights to felons. Those taking part in the strike will hold labour stoppages, sit-ins, hunger strikes and spending boycotts.

Conditions in US prisons have long been criticised by reform advocates. At present almost 2.3 million people are held in various correctional facilities and immigration detention centres in the US. Violence is a daily fact of life for many inmates, with an estimated 19 percent of male prisoners saying they have been assaulted by other inmates. Yet prisons are also a lucrative business; private prison companies routinely sign contracts with local and state authorities, despite research suggesting that inmate-on-inmate violence is significantly higher in privately-run facilities. In 2017, the Justice Department declared it would again use private facilities to hold federal inmates, a volte-face from an Obama administration directive to let existing federal contracts with private companies expire without the possibility of renewal.

Organisers of the forthcoming national strike say it will solidify and refine a spirit of protest that was shown in a national strike two years ago. In that protest, more than 24,000 prisoners in a dozen states took part. But, in the era of the Trump administration, what will be different this time? Join the conversation at 19:30 GMT to find out.

Today on The Stream we speak with:

Chandra Bozelko @ChandraBozelko
Formerly incarcerated writer

Romarilyn Ralston @RomarilynR 
Member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, L.A. chapter

Krystal Rountree @JailLawSpeak 
Outside representative and organiser, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak

Swift Justice @UNHEARDVOICES16
Cofounder, Unheard Voices

Read more:

Do prison strikes work? – The Marshall Project
America’s prisoners are going on strike in at least 17 states – Vox

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.