Monday, February 28, 2011

The Georgia (USA) prison strike

Prisoners in the extremely harsh factory-prisons of the USA, where prisoners are exploited as slave workforce, have successfully performed a whole week-long strike in demand of their rights: educational opportunities, decent health care, end to cruel and unusual punishments, decent living conditions, nutritional (balanced) meals, vocational training, fair access to families, just parole decisions.

Read the full story at Freedom Press.


  1. Interesting. (I was born there and lived there until shortly before my seventh birthday.)

    On sentencing and criminal justice issues the state supreme court in Georgia is actually rather liberal, although the federal courts in Georgia and the U.S. Court of Appeals circuit that presides over the federal courts there are among the most conservative in the nation, and the state constitution is very grudging on issues like the ability of the Governor to grant clemency to state prison inmates.

    Their experience is part of the larger trend that has caused states to reduce excessively long statutory sentences for crimes passed in the 1980s and 1990s due to budget pressures. But, those same budget pressures have also led to major cutbacks in services for inmates (Colorado is shuttering one of its prisons for elderly prisoners and cutting back on vocational and educational and mental health programs for prisoners in this year's budget, for example, despite the fact that we have a relatively liberal Democrat as a Governor, due to severe budget pressures). Florida which has state level rather than local prosecutors and a more draconian criminal code, for example, is probably worse, despite being a generally more liberal state. (Georgia is also notable for being the only state having, until recently, an "elected king" form of county government where a county has only a single elected official who has all executive, all legislative and some judicial power in county government.)

    Another irony of American life is that many of the services you note that the inmates are complaining about -- decent health care, decent living conditions, nutritional (balanced) meals, vocational training -- are provided much more consistently to prisoners who have a legal right to them, than they are to ordinary poor people outside prison who often have much more spotty access to these necessities. Sad as it is, for many U.S. inmates, prison is actually a step up in living conditions. Prison rape and violence from other prisoners that guards permit is another very serious problem in U.S. prisons (although again, personal security is not to great for non-inmates in the communities from which most inmates lived before going to prison either).

    Complicating the virtues of collective action in furtherance of legitimate claims is the problem of widespread abuses by organized prison gangs. Estimates of gang membership percentages range from 20% to more than 50% of prisoners and official estimates are probably low.

    "Slave labor" by prisoners, while greatly disliked by unions who don't want to be undercut in wages by prisoners, is probably in practice, these days, on balance, a positive element of prison administration practice rather than a negative one. It builds job skills, reminds prisoners what it is like to be employed, provides greater personal autonomy and meaning in life, and kills boredom. It is not the focus of complaints from activists on the ground who are familiar with American prison conditions and most U.S. prisoners (such as one interviewed on the radio this morning in a story about a prison closing in Colorado) see prison labor as a sought after valued privilege rather than a punishment, and not mostly because prisoners make a few cents an hour from doing it or because it improves their shot at early release. Working beats sitting in a cell or prison yard with other violent or duplicitous individuals with nothing else to occupy them.

  2. The prison system is supposed to rehab criminals, right? In many cases this is impossible because of the many defects of Capitalist society, which you do point out quite properly, including the "need" to have a vast workers' "reserve army" (unemployed and underemployed sector), circumstance that, specially in lack of public welfare of some sort, will feed criminality.

    But in any case, this is what the prison system is supposed to do: rehabilitate inmates. What is not supposed to be is a slavery plantation of sorts or a Nazi concentration camp where the "untermenschen" (prisoners) are forced to work and even die working for the "master race" (owners of the prisons, either public or private).

    As people removed from their freedom and put under state ward, the state is responsible of providing for them with some basics, as outlined above and not to exploit them as slaves. Your people fought a bloody civil war to end slavery, so I guess it's only natural that slavery (even by other names) comes to an end.

    Working should be voluntary and paid. Maybe it beats sitting in a cell doing nothing... or maybe it does not. I would not work under such prison system even if that means being thrown into the hole (with the resulting regular beatings and likely death). However I realize that other people may not be so "suicidal" as I am and have more issues with being isolated in a cell for 23 hrs/day without any stimulus other than the clink-clank background noise of prisons.

    Here, where the prison system is definitively NOT good, there's no forced work (slavery). You can volunteer for work or vocational training for the reasons you say (and mostly because of the small salary and important reduction of penalty you get) but all the work is oriented to the prison, not to production of commodities to be sold in the outside world: people clean, keep the library or work in the kitchen... not making clothes or car plates.


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