We’re in the midst of the biggest prison strike in US history
Prison officials have made it hard to get this information to the public. But it’s a big deal.
For the past couple of months, prison inmates across the country have been striking and protesting, in what organizers have called the largest prison strike in US history.
The little-known protests were organized around September 9 in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the bloody uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. But the demonstrations have continued in potentially dozens of states since then, and there’s talk of more concerted protests beginning anew later in October.
The demonstrations have broadly targeted dismal prison conditions. But they have generally focused on a few specific issues — particularly prison labor practices in both public and private prisons that can force inmates to take jobs for little to no pay, which inmates have characterized as modern slavery.
“What you see is a lot of people who are being incarcerated sort of recognizing the broader social, political, and historical context in which they are positioned,” said Clint Smith, a doctoral candidate in Harvard focused on incarceration issues. “And [they are] fundamentally rejecting the idea that they are devoid of any agency, that they are not able to push back and protest against the conditions in which they live.”
He added, “So often in this broader conversation about mass incarceration that’s been happening more so in the last four, five, or six years, you rarely see people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated at the forefront of that conversation. And many people in prison are recognizing that their voices are being silenced — not only in the general population but also in the conversation around them.”
The protests, however, have been varied in their approach. So far, they have taken place in as many as 50 prisons in at least 12 states, involving at least 24,000 people in these facilities. As John Washington explained for the Nation, the hard numbers are hard to come by, in large part because prisons are so secretive. But we do have some details of what’s going on.
Protests have broken out in at least 12 states
So far, the protests have taken a few forms. There have been work stoppages in which inmates refuse to take part in prison labor. There have also been hunger strikes, which mostly came about among inmates who don’t have jobs in prison. In some cases, there have also been bouts of violence — in which inmates take over parts of the prison and destroy property.
Here are some of the bigger protests, based on the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee’s tracker, the Nation’s breakdown, and other news reports:
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