National Prison Strike To End ‘American Slave System’

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Above photo: Original caption (1836): “Franklin & Armfield’s Slave Prison.” Franklin & Armfield was a Virginia slave trading firm. (American Anti-Slavery Society)

Starting Sept. 9, prisoners in the United States will begin a coordinated effort to shut down prisons across the country. They plan to stop working in correctional institutions. Without prisoners doing their jobs, these facilities cannot be run. According to Support Prisoner Resistance, the nationwide prisoner work stoppage will serve as a protest against prison slavery, the school-to-prison pipeline, police terror and post-release controls.

Prisoners organizing the strike are not making demands or requests in the usual sense. They are calling themselves to action in a planned protest and want every prisoner in every state and federal institution across America to “stop being a slave.”

Some people may bristle at the notion that prisoners are slaves, but they are forced to work for little or no pay. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, also maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

Correctional officers watch over every move of prisoners, and if assigned tasks are not performed correctly, prisoners are punished.

The goal of the planned September protest is to shed light on injustices within the American justice system. According to The Sentencing Project:

The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails—a 500% increase over the past thirty years. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.

Of those 2.2 million prisoners, the racial disparity is glaring. The Sentencing Project reports that “more than 60 percent are racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the ‘war on drugs,’ in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.”

Organizers for the national prison strike say the coordinated campaign is a way to stand up to mass criminalization and the injustices that perpetuate mass incarceration. They hope the coordinated show of resistance will force authorities to rethink their policies.

According to Support Prisoner Resistance:

Nonviolent protests, work stoppages, hunger strikes and other refusals to participate in prison routines and needs have increased in recent years. The 2010 Georgia prison strike, the massive rolling California hunger strikes and the Free Alabama Movement’s 2014 work stoppage have gathered the most attention, but they are far from the only demonstrations of prisoner power. Large, sometimes effective hunger strikes have broken out at Ohio State Penitentiary, at Menard Correctional in Illinois, at Red Onion in Virginia as well as many other prisons. The growing resistance movement is diverse and interconnected, including immigrant detention centers, women’s prisons and juvenile facilities. Last fall, women prisoners at Yuba County Jail in California joined a hunger strike initiated by women held in immigrant detention centers in California, Colorado and Texas.

 The organizers for this national prison strike campaign chose the start date for symbolic reasons. On Sept. 9, 1971, prisoners shut down and took over Attica, New York’s most notorious prison. A total of 43 people were killed in the Attica prison riots—one of the darkest chapters in American penal history.

Forty-five years after Attica, 21st-century prison strike organizers want change to return to America’s prisons in a nonviolent way. This September, prisoners across the country hope to coordinate their protests and build them into a single tidal shift that the American prison system cannot ignore.