Improved conditions and higher pay are among the ten demands being made by prisoners participating in a nationwide strike that kicked off Tuesday and is planned to continue until Sept. 9. According to the Guardian, the strike, organized by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, calls for work stoppages by prisoners (many get paid pennies an hour for their prison jobs, prompting comparisons to slavery), hunger strikes, sit-ins, and withholding money from the "prison industrialized complex" through things like not shopping at prison commissaries and not making collect phone calls. With prisoners in 17 states from coast to coast reportedly planning to participate in the strike, it "certainly has the potential … to be one of the largest prison strikes that the country has ever seen," Lauren-Brooke Eisen of New York University Law School tells Vox. But, she adds, strikers' "demands are rarely met."
In a statement, the organizers call for solidarity among prisoners, asking them to "stop the violence against each other. Regardless of race, class or label, we are one. And yes, we are by our very interest a class." This strike is partly motivated by a 2016 prison strike, NPR reports, as well as being a reaction to a deadly prison riot in South Carolina earlier this year. The Aug. 21 start date is significant because that is the day in 1971 that black activist George Jackson was killed in San Quentin State Prison, the Washington Post reports. Sept. 9, the planned last day of the strike, is the anniversary of the Attica prison riot, also in 1971. (Read more prison system stories.)