A prison strike has begun to take hold in prisons across North America with reports of sporadic protest action from California and Washington state to the eastern seaboard as far south as Florida and up to Nova Scotia in Canada.
Details remain sketchy as information dribbles out through the porous walls of the country’s penitentiaries. Prison reform advocacy groups liaising with strike organizers have said that protests had been confirmed in at least three states, with further unconfirmed reports emerging from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina with prisons in at least 17 states committed to the strike.
The confirmed cases related to a hunger strike in Folsom state prison in California and in the Northwest detention center in Tacoma, Washington, where as many as 200 detained immigrants joined the nationwide protest. The Canadian unrest occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where prisoners at Burnside jail put out a statement in solidarity with their striking US equivalents complaining that they were being “warehoused as inmates, not treated as human beings”.
The planned 19-day strike (August 20 to September 9) is the first such nationwide action in the U.S. in two years and was triggered by April’s rioting in Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina in which seven inmates were killed. The start of the strike on Monday, August 20, was symbolically timed to mark the 47th anniversary of the death of the Black Panther leader George Jackson in San Quentin prison in California and end on the 47th anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising in New York in 1971.
One of the intentions of the organizers of the current dispute is to bring to public attention the spate of deaths in custody, which in some states has reached epidemic proportions. In Mississippi, 10 inmates have died in their cells in the past three weeks alone, with no firm indication of their causes of death.
In addition to loss of life, the strikers, led by a network of incarcerated activists who call themselves Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, have put out a set of 10 demands to overhaul the U.S. creaking penal system. High up on the list is an end to forced or underpaid labor that the protesters call a form of modern slavery.