Protect Prisoners Striking Against Forced, Unpaid Labor

Modern_chain_gang-Patrick-Denker

Target: Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General

Goal: Protect strikers as they advocate for prison labor reform and an end to modern-day slavery.

Prisoners across the U.S. are striking against, forced, low paying or unpaid labor that resembles slavery. The Intercept reports that “most able-bodied prisoners at federal facilities are required to work,” often for cents per hour, and that at many Southern state facilities, “prisoners are not paid at all.” The practice of forced prison labor may be legal—it is explicitly allowed as a punishment in the 13th Amendment—but that does not make it right.

Judith Greene, a criminal justice policy analyst, has compared prison labor to slave plantations. She describes conditions on Texas prison farms, saying “The prisoners are all dressed in white, they got their backs bent over whatever crop they’re tending, the guards are on horseback with rifles.” It is unthinkable that we should allow forced labor, let alone that so reminiscent of antebellum slavery, to continue thriving in modern America.

To that end, inmates across Texas have pledged a work stoppage until the labor system is reformed. In taking action, the prisoners join a coalition of other incarcerated laborers, from Virginia to Oregon, who have called for a national prison labor strike. The Intercept reports that that call has also been answered at prisons in Alabama, Mississippi, and Ohio.

Let us do what we can to help these prisoners as they struggle to free themselves from forced labor. Call on the Department of Justice to monitor prisons across the country, ensuring that strikers are protected from retaliation and abuse.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Attorney General Loretta Lynch,

Prison labor is a widespread, and unfortunately legal, practice. The Intercept reports that “most able-bodied prisoners at federal facilities are required to work,” often for cents per hour, and that at many Southern state facilities, “prisoners are not paid at all.”

The oppressive structure of prison labor manifests in viscerally upsetting ways. Judith Greene describes scenes redolent of slavery on Texas prison farms: “The prisoners are all dressed in white, they got their backs bent over whatever crop they’re tending, the guards are on horseback with rifles.”

In response to those intolerable conditions, prison laborers across the country are joining strikes to raise awareness of their plight and to demand reform. The decision to call for reform is not an easy one. Strikers in Texas note in an open letter that, “Even in 21st century America, prisoners still get beat up and even killed by prison guards, and they make it look like an accident or a suicide.”

Prison labor may be legal, but the abuse and retaliation that prison reform advocates fear is clearly not. Use whatever regulatory authority you command to ensure that strikers are protected.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Patrick Denker

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