Prisoners around the country seek what they call “more human rights.”
This week marks the third week of action by prisoners around the country in a strike intended to bring attention to their status, living conditions and perceived lack of human rights. Organized by a group of incarcerated activists called Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and supported by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, the prisoners are demanding action be taken on ten specific issues that relate to their rights.
1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.
2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.
5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.
6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.
7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.
10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!
Ten prisoners’ issues quoted directly from Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
In many cases, prisoners are not paid the federal minimum wage for their work. It is not uncommon for people to work for as little as 50 or even 25 cents an hour.
Methods used by the strikers are reported to be sit-ins, work stoppages and hunger strikes.
The most recent press release from the organizing committees seeks to reinforce the notion that “strikers may be resisting in ways that are tougher to quantify and view” and that officials within the correctional facilities may be taking actions to hide the protests from the outside world. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment.
Dr. Jeremy Kuzmarov, former TU history professor and author of “Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation-Building in the American Century,” gave his take on the historical significance of the strikes. He mentioned that prisoner activism has a long history in the United States, specifically describing two events that occured in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
One was the killing of prisoner activist and Black Panther party member George Jackson on August 21st, 1971, who was originally detained for one year to life but was kept imprisoned for almost 10 years because of his political activities.
The second was the Attica Prison uprising of September 9th of the same year, which happened in response to both Jackson’s death and the poor conditions of the prison. The inmates there took control of the prison and took several guards hostage until the National Guard was called to violently quell the uprising.
Both Dr. Kuzmarov and the striking organizations cited these events as inspirations for today’s actions. He went on to say that the subsequent expansion of the “war on drugs” and the “tough on crime” ideology have lead to the conditions that have incited the current action.
Dr. Kuzmarov’s work focuses on the exportation of the American prison model to other countries, like Iraq and Vietnam over the course of the 20th century.
He cited horrible conditions and politically motivated imprisonment as failures of those systems and spoke of a “need to humanize American systems [of imprisonment]” before trying to influence those of other countries.
He also wished to make it clear that most media outlets are not paying significant attention to what should be a historic event.