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August 21, 2018

Two-week prison strike begins today in Philadelphia and other U.S. cities

Activism Prison
prison strike barbed wire Bart Boatwright/The Greenville News via USA TODAY NETWORK

Barbed wire outside a prison building.

Prisoners in Philadelphia and nearly two dozen other cities across the U.S. are beginning a two-week strike on Tuesday in protest of what demonstrators consider poor, exploitative prison conditions and labor practices.

Today's start date of the strike was chosen to commemorate the death of George Jackson, an imprisoned African-American activist who was killed by a guard in 1971. The strike will continue through Sept. 9, to coincide with the Riot of Attica Prison, also in 1971.

Leaders in the protest are calling for an end of what they call "modern-day slavery," largely in reference to prisoners' meager pay for labor. This issue gained attention recently in California when prisoners were recruited to help fight the state's historic wildfires. The prisoners received $1 an hour and $2 a day.

The strike also is a response to poor prison conditions. Participating inmates will not report to their assigned jobs and/or stop spending commissary funds. Abstaining from eating will also be a part of the protest for some inmates, and civil sit-in protests are planned.

Seven inmates died in South Carolina's Lee Correctional Institution earlier this year when a prison riot arose in response to poor conditions in the prison, prompting organizers to plan this year's protest. 

Prisoner-led trade group Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee supports the strike, which is led by advocate network Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. The IWOC lays out the strike's 10 demands online.

Among the demands is a call for "immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies." Advocates also call for a change in incarcerated labor wages, asserting that "all persons imprisoned ... must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor."

The demands also call for more rehabilitation services in state prisons and an end to "the racial overcharging ... and parole denials of Black and brown humans." Read the full list of demands here

Prisons in at least 17 states are expected to participate in the protests. Cities participating include Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Boston, and a majority number of western and southern cities. Because recruitment is ongoing, no specific number of participants has been reported.


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