US Prison Inmates to Strike for Humane Reforms
America’s gulag prison system is one of the world’s harshest – inmates brutally mistreated, harshness amounting to torture.
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak are imprisoned human rights activists. Their press release announced a national prison strike from August 21 to September 9 – the anniversary of upstate New York Attica prison violence in September 1971.
New York state police, prison guards, and other law enforcement units attacked prisoners on orders from state officials, resulting in dozens of deaths, including inmates and others involved.
Continuing for days, the uprising contested inhumane prison conditions and mistreatment – America’s gulag today worse than nearly half a century ago.
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee called for improved conditions, an end to prison dehumanization, slavery, racial over-charging, over-sentencing, and “death by incarceration” life imprisonment without parole, as well as:
the right to have their grievances heard, along with rescinding the Truth in Sentencing, Sentencing Reform, and Prison Litigation Reform Acts.
The former restricts or prohibits parole for repeat offenders, enforcing mandatory sentencing. The latter abolished federal parole in many cases.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act restricts justifiable prisoner lawsuits, denying their constitutional right to contest prohibited cruel and unusual mistreatment.
The strike was called by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee in response to violence at South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution. On April 15, prisoners were beaten and stabbed to death, seven killed, dozens injured, 22 requiring hospitalization.
Guards and prison authorities did nothing to stop what happened, continuing for hours.
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak initiated a campaign for prisoner safety, survival, and solidarity under harsh conditions where hope is the scarcest commodity.
Since the mid-April South Carolina incident, prisoners at Level 2 and 3 facilities statewide were placed on lockdown, their freedom of movement denied, including proper personal hygiene, exercise, and meals outside their cells.
The Jailhouse Lawyers Speak press release called for “men and women across the nation (to) strike in the following manner:
1. Work Strikes: Prisoners will not report to assigned jobs. Each place of detention will determine how long its strike will last. Some of these strikes may translate into a local list of demands designed to improve conditions and reduce harm within the prison.
2. Sit-ins : In certain prisons, men and women will engage in peaceful sit – in protests.
3. Boycotts: All spending should be halted. We ask those outside the walls not to make financial judgments for those inside. Men and women on the inside will inform you if they are participating in this boycott.
4. Hunger Strikes: Men and women shall refuse to eat.”
Scores of organizations in America and abroad endorsed the strike action, including:
Millions for Prisoners
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The People’s Consortium
Abolition: Journal of Insurgent Politics
Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign
Democratic Socialists of America
Freie Arbeiterinnen (Germany)
Harvard Law School National Lawyers Guild
National Lawyers Guild
New York City Jericho Movement
War Resisters League – and many others.
America’s gulag prison system is the shame of the nation. Two-thirds of inmates are Blacks and Latinos.
High crimes of war and against humanity go unaddressed and unpunished. So do crimes in the suites most often.
America’s most disadvantaged comprise the vast majority of inmates – brutalized by an uncaring nation, most often for drug-related offenses and other nonviolent ones.
Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once said:
“When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end, nor is his quest for self-realization concluded.”
“If anything, the need for identity and self-respect are more compelling in the dehumanizing prison environment.”
Separately, he denounced “intolerable conditions” in US prisons, especially harming inmates of color.
Appalling conditions and mistreatment in America’s gulag flagrantly violate core human rights laws, norms and standards.
My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”