Beginning Tuesday, prisoners across the country are planning to launch a strike, staging labor strikes, hunger strikes and sit-ins to draw attention to poor prison conditions, dismal or sometimes nonexistent pay for incarcerated workers, and the need for sentencing reform.
Detainees in North Carolina participated in a similar strike in 2016, and a prisoner at Lanesboro Correctional Institution (a state prison in Polkton plagued with violence and corruption) has called on others in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to join in this year’s strike, which is set to last until September 9. Prisoners in at least seventeen states are expected to participate, Vox reports.
“Demands made by prisoners in North Carolina focus on the use of solitary confinement, the treatment of prisoners with mental health diagnoses, policies on mandatory minimum sentences and parole eligibility, the SRG (Security Risk Group) policy and the extreme restrictions it places on classified prisoners, a $10 fee for write ups, private contract companies working with NC prisons, and the lack of educational and rehabilitation programs,” strike organizers said in a press release this afternoon. “Issues regarding compulsory and low paid prison labor, described by prisoners and outside supporters as slave labor, are central to the prisoner strike, both nationally and in North Carolina.”
Two events will be held in the Triangle this week in solidarity with striking prisoners.
On Wednesday evening, the Triangle chapter of Industrial Workers of the World will host a discussion about prison abolition and the demands of those who plan to go on strike. On Thursday evening on UNC campus, UNControllables will host Slavery Never Ended, a discussion about the history of prison strikes and how to support the upcoming one.
Prisoners in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety earn between 40 cents and $3 per day, depending on the training and skills required for a job (different policies apply for those on work release or those working for private industries). Working can also earn them time off their sentence.
“The North Carolina prison system is one of the most progressive in the country in providing rehabilitative and reentry services to our offender population. Incarcerated individuals have many opportunities to further their education thanks to partnerships with community colleges and other entities,” Kenneth Lassiter, NCDPS director of prisons, said in a statement to the INDY regarding the possibility of a work stoppage. “They can participate in job training that will assist them in obtaining and maintaining employment once they leave prison. Through these work programs, they are taught skills and responsibility and are better equipped to pay such things as restitution owed for their infractions, as well as prepare for life outside prison.”
The national prison strike grew out of a call for action by Jail Lawyers Speak in response to an April 2017 riot at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, in which seven inmates were killed. The anonymous group of prisoner rights advocate slisted ten demands:
“The goal is not to hold out and win negotiations with officials, but to last those nineteen days and punch the issue to the top of national political consciousness and agenda,” says the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, part of IWW.