The Largest Prison Strike In US History Rages On

On December 9th, the largest prison strike in US history began in multiple facilities in Georgia. Thousands of those inside have united in a self-imposed lockdown to demand various human rights demands ranging from an end to slave labor, access to health care and education, communication from their families, and an end to cruel and unusual punishment. Despite a harsh crackdown, the strike has been raging on for the last week, and shows no signs of ending.

The strike has been taking place from between six to eleven facilities across Georgia, and is currently still strong in Hays State Prison in Trion, Telfair State Prison in Helena, Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe, and Smith State Prison in Glennville. Georgia correction officials refused to comment on the strike until earlier this week, when they confirmed these four facilities were on lockdown status.

Although information is tightly controlled by the prison industry, inside sources claim that inmates have suffered a series of reprisal and punitive measures that include widespread destruction of their personal property, denial of food, and beatings. While outside temperatures dropped to freezing, heat and hot water have also been cut in an attempt by prison officials to break up the strike. Despite allegations that the crackdown by guards are tactics designed to instigate a violent response, there are no reports of violent action taken by the prisoners themselves, this appears to be a peaceful protest.

Advocate for prisoner human rights Elaine Brown has been in contact with the inmates, and reports inmates at Augusta State Prison were “brutally ripped from their cells … and beaten, resulting in broken ribs, one man beaten beyond recognition.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues:

She said officers assigned to the riot squad at Telfair State Prison had “roughed up prisoners and destroyed all their property. At Macon and Hays State Prisons, tactical squads have menaced the men for days, removing some to the ‘hole,’ the wardens ordering heat and hot water turned off. Tear gas has been used to force men out of their cells at various prisons, while guards patrol grounds with assault rifles.”

The outside voice of the strike is a group called the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights. The protest was coordinated using mobile phones purchased from prison guards for up to $800. Despite some reporting of the events by independent media such as DemocracyNow, the Alyona Show, and the SF Bay View, these events have been completely ignored by the main stream media, perhaps in a blackout aimed at curtailing this from spreading to more of Georgia’s 30 detention facilities or prisons in other states.

The protections of basic human rights for prisoners in America has been on the decline for three decades since harsh conservative political policies began to take shape. The sharp increase in the incarceration rate largely due to the drug war and mandatory minimum sentencing have led to the United States becoming the world’s largest jailed.

As reported by Gilbert Mercier on News Junkie Post, [The US has] an incarceration rate of 754 per 100,000 residents. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world, and it is much higher than rates in other democracies. In comparison, the rate in England is 154 per 100,000, in Canada it is 116 per 100,000 and in Japan only 63 per 100,000. According to the BJS, in 2008 over 7.3 million people were either on probation, in jail, in prison or on parole. This amounts to an astonishing 3.2 percent of all US adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults.

Although conditions vary by the level of detention facility and by state, by most measures they are some of the harshest in Georgia. Due to severe budget cuts stemming from the financial crisis that has put a strain on the state budget, it is routine for prisoners to be triple bunked into small cells, being subjected to substandard meals that lack standard nutrients, and having decreasing access to basic health care.

Compounding to the financial crunch is a lack of alternative programs aimed at reforming prisoners and preparing them for a crime free life once they are released. Georgia has incarceration and recidivism rates among the highest in the nation, and with mandatory minimum sentencing, costs have spiraled while spending has been slashed.

Open Salon reports[The Georgia] incarceration rate 16% higher than the national average. Even so, the cost per prisoner for one year of imprisonment is just $17,500, more than $10,000 (or 39%) below the national average. Some of the prison costs in Georgia are mitigated by its vast system of unpaid prison labor, by which prisoners perform jobs such as ground maintenance, repairs, and construction that would otherwise cost counties and cities hundreds of thousands of dollars for paid labor.

While the privatization of prisons in America has been pushed as a cost cutting solution, it has also revealed the dangers of exploitation as a result. Public prisoners can receive funding from their friends and family in society, but in private prisons, companies are used that require a 10% surcharge on such transactions. Similarly, communications to family are often restricted to 15 minute weekly calls, and only available by paying a $50 per month usage fee.

Many poor families are unable to pay that. Being punished for a crime is one thing, but making merchandise out of prisoner families for the benefit of for-profit firms is quite another thing.
-anonymous commenter

Further, to cuts costs the private prison industry has laid off outside workers who were responsible for jobs like building maintenance and groundskeeping. They then outsource this labor to unpaid prisoners.

The forced labor appears to be the greatest grievance of the strikers. Unlike other states, there is no pay for work, often leaving released prisoners with nothing in their pocket but $25 and bus ticket. Georgia prisoners are forced to work without pay for their labor, which is a violation of the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude. Fuel is only added to the resentment here because a disproportionately high number of prisoners in the state, as well as across the American South are black.

Most of the legal challenges for prisoners in America to address their grievances were cut off since the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, allowing conditions to increasingly deteriorate unnoticed by the outside world. The list of demands from the protesters:

* A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.
* EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.
* DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.
* AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.
* DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.
* NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.
* VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.
* ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.
* JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

While the strike was originally slated to be a one day protest, until their demands are addressed, the striking prisoners in the remaining 4 facilities are refusing to go out on work details or leave their cells. The Georgia chapter of the NAACP is calling for a federal investigation into prison conditions in Georgia and SF Bay View has issued a list of State Prison phone numbers to contact for concerned citizens.


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