A North American prison strike is ongoing as inmates in the United States and Canada risk punishment and increased sentences to raise awareness about the conditions there are forced to endure.
The prison strike is now on its seventh day, and inmates in at least 7 states are participating by refusing to work, refusing to purchase items from their respective prisons, and in some cases, even refusing to eat.
This strike is the first of its kind in the U.S. in two years, and its organizers claim their goal is to raise awareness about what they call the “prison-industrial slave complex.”
Risking longer sentences and punishments including solitary confinement, inmates across the country are choosing to participate in the strike in the name of improving prison conditions and increasing the hourly wages they are paid.
The strike is being headed by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. In a statement, the group said that ultimately, they see this campaign as a human rights movement and that, “Prisons in America are a war zone. Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement. For some of us it’s as if we are already dead. So what do we have to lose?”
The prisoners’ demands include reforms that recognize the humanity of men and women who are incarcerated, access to rehabilitation programs for all inmates, and an end to racial over-charging and over-sentencing.
In addition to protesting forced and unpaid labor, the inmates are also calling attention to what they say are “racist gang laws” that target minorities.
At least 7 inmates were killed and 17 injured after fights broke out inside of a prison in South Carolina in April. While local officials immediately called for more laws to address gang-related violence.
An inmate who witnessed the event told the Associated Press that he saw bodies stacking up on each other, all while the nearby prison guards did nothing to stop the violence or check on the injured.
This strike also comes as 11 inmates from 4 prison facilities have reportedly been found dead in their cells in Mississippi in the last 3 weeks. Information on how they died has yet to be released.
The current protest also aims to humanize men and women who are incarcerated. According to Federal Bureau of Prisons, more than 46 percent, or nearly 80,000 of the individuals currently in prison in the United States are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses
The last major prison strike occurred in 2016 when more than 24,000 inmates in 24 states took part in the largest prison strike in U.S. history. While the last major strike received little media coverage, there is hope that the protest may finally result in some sort of reform before it concludes on September 9.