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Prisoners join strikes and protest across the US

This article is over 5 years, 9 months old
A wave of action in prisons and detention centres is hitting back at dire conditions, says Alistair Farrow
Issue 2619
Inmates suffer overcrowding in one Alabama prison
Inmates suffer overcrowding in one Alabama prison

Inmates in prisons across the US are on strike to demand an end to overcrowding, terrible conditions and effectively forced labour.

The current round of strikes started after a riot in April at the Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina left seven people dead.

Guards were accused of standing by and allowing the riot to continue, leaving injured inmates untreated.

The mother of one of the people killed in the riot spoke at a protest outside the facility last Saturday. “He was suffering from the moment he got in,” she said.

“Something needs to be done. My son was murdered in this prison—someone needs to step up.

“The guards weren’t doing their jobs. Where the hell were they at when my son was killed?”

The Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC) reported that strikes were taking place in institutions across eight states. The strikes began on 21 August and are set to continue until 9 September.

The organisation also estimated solidarity protests took place in “at least 21 cities around the US and as far abroad as Leipzig, Germany”.

Details are sparse due to the difficulty inmates have communicating with the outside world.

The IWOC statement said, “The tactics being used in this strike are not always visible. Prisoners are boycotting prison shops, they are engaging in hunger strikes which can take days for the state to acknowledge.”


At the North West Detention Centre (NWDC) in Tacoma in the state of Washington, some 200 detained migrants joined the protests.

In a letter to NWDC the migrants said, “We are taking part in a hunger strike nationwide demanding change and closure of these detention centres.

“We are acting with solidarity for all those people who are being detained wrongfully.”

The Jailhouse Lawyers organisation is one of the groups behind the strikes.

One of its ten demands is that “all persons imprisoned under US jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labour.”

In many institutions there is compulsory labour—with people who refuse to work locked up in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

And even in prisons where work is not compulsory, inmates are effectively forced to work to buy writing materials or to supplement the bad food the prisons provide.

It’s big money for the privatised prison industry. Inmates are never paid more than about 80p an hour and often as little as 30p.

Meanwhile companies get billions from the federal government to run prisons.

These companies include GEO—which made a donation of £130,000 to a Donald Trump political committee and almost £200,000 to his inauguration ceremony. Now its share price has quadrupled.

In a recent interview a representative of Jailhouse Lawyers said, “The entire system itself—the judicial system, the injustice system—it is a big ball of corruption.”

Read the prison strikers’ demands at

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