A Nationwide prison strike began on August 21 in response to a prison fight at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina earlier this year that ended with seven inmates losing their lives.
With prisoners in at least 17 states participating, this strike has the potential to shed light on the vast room for improvement in the criminal justice system. This 19-day strike will go until September 9 and has been said to include labor and hunger strikes.
The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) has taken on a lead role in this strike and gives allies the tools on their website to support the campaign to end prison slavery.
The IWOC is a prision-led section of Industrial Workers of the World who strive to end prison slavery with the help of outside allies.
Slavery may have been abolished in the United States in 1865 along with the passing of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but the amendment also states that, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”
This can explain why people in prison can be paid a fraction of what the average worker would make for doing similar, if not the same, work.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the highest per hour average wage of a prisoner in 2017 for a regular, non-industry job was 63 cents and for a correctional industry, state owned business it was $1.41.
Recently, during California’s raging wildfires, The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tweeted how more than 2,000 volunteer inmate firefighters were on scene.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported that these volunteer inmate firefighters are only paid $2 dollars a day plus $1 an hour which is extremely low in comparison to other firefighters.
These people putting their lives on the line might be inmates, but that shouldn’t discount the value that is placed on their lives when they are working a dangerous environment.
Amani Sawari, a spokesperson for the protests, told Vox that, “Every single field and industry is affected on some level by prisons, from our license plates to the fast food that we eat to the stores that we shop at. So we really need to recognize how we are supporting the prison industrial complex through the dollars that we spend.”
Inmates are demanding “the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor,” but there are other aspects to consider.
Inmates do not have to pay for rent, utilities or food in comparison to those earning minimum wage outside of prison. It would seem unfair to offer inmates the same job opportunities as those who are not in prison.
Paying inmates minimum or average wage for their labor would require massive budget changes for state-owned correctional industry businesses.
This would essentially break down the Prison Industrial Complex, which is described by The Empty Cages Collective as “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.”
There should be an understanding that inmates need increased wages since they play an important part in many industries, but that their wages should not parallel minimum or average wage.
This wage increase would have to be budgeted and would not be immediate. Many other demands made by the prisoners are related to budgets and systematic racism within the system itself.
Unfortunately, their list of demands cannot be met overnight and would take legislative action and systemic change to achieve.
According to the IWOC website, “it will take a mass movement - inside and out - to abolish prison slavery.”