Inmates in at least 17 states are participating in a strike calling for an “end to prison slavery.” Blacks and Latinos make up the majority of the population being paid less than $1 an hour for their work, due to racial disparities within the criminal justice system.
“In 2016, Blacks represented 12 percent of the U.S. adult population, but 33 percent of the sentenced prison population,” according to a Pew Research Center report, published in January.
“Whites accounted for 64 percent of adults but 30 percent of prisoners. And, while Hispanics represented 16 percent of the adult population, they accounted for 23 percent of inmates.
The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), which is supporting the strike, published their list of 10 demands, which includes “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,” the document states.
“Prison slavery exists,” a protest spokesperson, Amani Sawari, told Vox. “The 13th Amendment didn’t abolish slavery.
“It wrote slavery into the Constitution. There’s a general knowledge that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, but if you read it, there’s an exception clause in the abolishing of it.”
The exception clause Sawari is referring to is: “whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
The inmates are refusing to work, with some even refusing to eat, to bring attention to prison conditions and prison labor issues.
In California, inmates have been voluntarily recruited to fight the state’s wildfires. They are paid $1 an hour plus $2 per day.
For-profit companies hire inmates at wages far below minimum wage and manufacture goods at low cost, Brianna Peril, founder of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee told Axios. Rival “businesses can’t compete with that,” Peril said.
And, when the inmates are released, the jobs do not lead to employment.
IWOC said in a statement:
“Let this nationwide strike be a wake-up, prisoners will destroy the crops, we will not comply, we will not allow you to exploit our families’ hard-earned dollars anymore.
“We are humans!”
The strike began on Aug. 21, to commemorate the day that George Jackson, a Black activist and author incarcerated in the San Quentin Prison, died. It’s scheduled to last until Sept. 9, which is the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising in upstate New York in 1971.