US prisoners have today declared a nationwide strike asking for changes to correctional institutions including living conditions, pathways to parole and voting rights restoration.
The incarceration rate in the US is the world’s highest: 2016 saw at least 2.2 million people put behind bars, This represents approximately one-fifth of the global population of prisoners, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The strike which has been scheduled to continue till September 9 according to the organisers was necessitated as a response to a deadly riot in April at a maximum security prison in South Carolina, Lee Correctional Institution.
“Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology,” the group of incarcerated prison rights advocates leading the strike said.
“These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery,” the group, known as Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, said in a statement.
Organizers urged the inmates to engage in peaceful sit-ins, hunger strikes and work stoppages.
Low remuneration for prisoners put to work at jobs like cooking and cleaning is high on the list of grievances released by organizers, who dubbed the practice “slavery.”
Udi Ofer, who leads the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice, praised the strikers.
“Our country is stronger when people most marginalized and directly impacted by unjust policies raise their voices in protest and demand a different future,” Ofer said in a statement. “The courageous people who are bringing focused attention to America’s system of mass incarceration through the Nationwide Prison Strike deserve our admiration.”
“We urge corrections officials not to respond with retaliation,” he added.
“Peaceful demonstrations challenging unjust conditions and practices do not merit placing participants into solitary confinement or adding time to their sentences.”
In 2016, inmates responded to a similar call to action, with prisoners striking in states including Florida, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina.