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News > World

Strikes on Prison Labor, Conditions Still Strong into 3rd Month

  • Prison inmates lay water pipe on a work project outside Oak Glen Conservation Fire Camp #35 in Yucaipa, California.

    Prison inmates lay water pipe on a work project outside Oak Glen Conservation Fire Camp #35 in Yucaipa, California. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 October 2016

Inmates across the country are still going strong with hunger strikes and riots after the nationwide strike was launched Sept. 9.

As the prison strike in the U.S. is close to entering its third month, a sheriff’s union, more prison guards and a health care advocacy group have joined with the thousands of inmates striking against prison labor and prison conditions across the country.

Leader of Historic US Prison Strike Transferred to 'Bully Camp'

Almost one million prisoners in the U.S. work for cents an hour, and in some cases nothing, for a variety of multinationals and face harsh repercussions for refusing to work. The strike started Sept. 9 to coincide with the anniversary of the Attica prison riot, which resulted in deadly repression and inspired similar riots nationally and mobilized tens of thousands of prisoners.

In Michigan, Kinross prison inmates were transferred to another facility in solitary confinement after they staged an uprising after “heavily armed guards raided the units firing tear gas and rounding up supposed ‘leaders’ of the demonstration,” an inmate confirmed to the activist blog "It’s Going Down" last week. Even after inmates complied when ordered to go to their bunks, a SWAT team launched tear gas and pepper spray at the inmates.

"I don’t understand why they’d use it a half hour after they had full compliance and control,” said Heather Ann Thompson, a historian who heard accounts from several inmates, in a statement released Wednesday.

Three inmates have died in Kinross since the uprising, all from questionable causes. Meanwhile, guards told Buzzfeed they support the strike and “see it as a moral issue.”

Prison guards also came out in support of strikers at Holman prison in Alabama, many of them calling in sick in solidarity. An inmate who helped organize the historic prison strike was transferred from the Alabama prison where he was being held in solitary confinement in a maximum security “bully camp.” The group organizing for his release, Free Alabama Movement, reported Tuesday that an activist inmate in another prison was assaulted.

Last week, the sheriff deputies union of the Santa Clara County said they support the nearly 300 hunger striking prisoners in San Jose, who began their fast two weeks ago and was suspended last weekend after an emotional release from solitary confinement. The inmates protested the use of solitary confinement, limited clothing and inflated food prices at the county jail.

Staff distributed flyers to convince strikers to drop out, but even after the sheriff's department conceded, strikers did not fully call off the strike unless all changes prove to be lasting. Their strike was not against prison labor but also attracted a national solidarity effort.

Guards Join with Inmates to Protest US Prison Conditions

On the other side of the country, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, health care activists organized Tuesday to advocate for health care in the for-profit facility. Since a private health care provider started delivering care at the prison, reported The Incline, three inmates have died. Healthcare, along with solitary confinement, were also common complaints of striking prison laborers, many of them held in private facilities.

The Department of Justice announced in August that it would not renew contracts with federal for-profit facilities, leaving a big question mark of what would happen to state and county facilities and detention centers run by the Department of Homeland Security. While the DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency added that it would review its contracts, it renewed one contract with the Corrections Corporation of America in Texas—responsible for 14 percent of its revenue—last week and is considering renewing two others in Ohio and New Mexico.

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