On the 45th anniversary of New York State’s Attica Prison riots, when inmates demanded political rights and better living conditions, prisoners across the U.S. staged a work stoppage that started last Friday in one of the first national prison strikes, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The incarcerated protesters have demanded they receive more workers’ rights to end conditions they characterize as “slave labor.” Unlike in Attica, they are engaging in an ongoing public conversation.
The protests fit into a larger narrative about how to transition the criminal justice system out of the mass incarceration era, marked by three-strike policies and mandatory minimum sentences popularized in the 1990s.
“For those of us who lived through that time, the contrast from the current climate is stunning,” says David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “The recent strikes are just one manifestation among many of the higher visibility and the greater significance of these issues in public conversation.” Inmates in Alabama, California, Florida, Michigan, North and South Carolinas, and Virginia refused to leave their cells this week to perform mandatory labor, says Azzurra Crispino of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), which aims to help prisoners unionize. It was reported facilities in Texas were on lockdown because of work stoppages. The demands of the prisoners that staged the work stoppage vary. Some would like to see the prison system abolished, while many have demanded better pay and working conditions.