Prison strike ends but will it help?
Sunday, September 9, 2018 marked the end of a 19-day United States prison strike. This year’s strike ended on the anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison riot. Incarcerated humans from various prisons across the United States participated in hunger strikes, sit-ins and labor strikes, in an effort to restore the right to vote and accomplish other prison reform.
The right to vote
At the time of this writing, 34 American states prohibit citizens from voting based on previous convictions. With the world’s largest incarcerated population, the United States bans a considerable number of citizens from participating in the voting process. Former inmates must pay taxes but are often denied to the right to vote. To some, this may constitute an unfair disadvantage to those who have paid their debt to society.
What inmates want
Strike organizers compiled a list of 10 demands. Among the demands were voting rights, better access to rehabilitation programs and revocation of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, to allow imprisoned people a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
Striking inmates also object to the extremely low wages paid for services rendered by imprisoned people. Inmates are often paid very little for their work, and in some cases, they are not paid at all. For example, inmates in California reportedly provided firefighting services for $1 – $3 per day. Such wages are referred to as modern slavery. It’s a situation leaving incarcerated people struggling to fund phone calls to loved ones, or send money home to their children. The incarcerated labor force is vulnerable to victimization. The 2018 strike aimed to bring empowerment in place of exploitation.
Toussaint Losier, assistant professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, believes the 2018 prison strike will increase awareness of inhumane conditions. According to USA Today, Losier stated, ““I think the outcome is likely to be greater public awareness about the difficult and inhumane conditions that many prisoners face across the country – an elevated public attention to the broad issues as well as some of the more specific concerns that prisoners themselves have raised.”
It impacts you
Strike organizers hope the movement continues momentum after the strike’s end. Whether or not the strike will produce lasting reform efforts remains to be seen. Some food for thought… many currently imprisoned human beings may be released, and become your neighbor, your service worker or your friend. Treating them like animals during the period of incarceration does little to reform and much to harm. Would you rather that person join or re-join your community after years of reform and inner work or years of mistreatment and exploitation? We are all impacted by the ripple effect of humanity.