• US inmates are protesting conditions in a nationwide strike. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Campaign groups say authorities have retaliated to try and shut down the nationwide prison protest.
Brooke Fryer

5 Sep 2018 - 5:57 PM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2018 - 5:59 PM

Inmates across the United States have been sent to solitary confinement for participating in and organising a nationwide prison strike.

Now in its third week, prison authorities have responded by sending suspected organisers of the strike to solitary confinement cells and revoking their communication privileges.

Jared Ware, a spokesperson for Incarcerated Workers Organisation Committee (IWOC), told NITV News it is retaliation in an attempt to shut the strike down.

“Prisoners take on the risks of these strikes and it can be horrible what is done to them in response," he said.

"But their inability to advocate openly for basic human dignities is part of what they are protesting and should serve to solidify the importance of basic protections for their human rights."

The inmates involved are protesting conditions in prisons across the country, and the strike follows a riot earlier this year in South Carolina Department of Corrections in which seven people were killed.

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'Prison slavery' in the form of low pay for forced labour is a key focus of the protests. 

Organisers called on inmates to organise protests at their prison, such as stop work periods, sit-ins, spending boycotts and hunger strikes.  Actions were expected across 17 states in the United States and up to Nova Scotia in Canada.

“Prisoners will use the momentum and lessons from this strike to keep pushing for change. A large coalition of organisations has come together to support this strike and hopefully prisoners can lead that coalition to future action as well around these 10 demands,” Mr Ware said.

Jailhouse Layers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates and endorsers of the strike, released 10 national changes that various inmates are advocating for.

Some include an 'end to racial overcharging, over-sentencing and parole denials' for inmates of colour, and end to 'racist enhancement laws targeting inmates of colour and an end to prison slavery'.

The 13th amendment to the US constitution abolished slavery 'except as a punishment for crime'. According to Prison Policy Initiative the average pay for the work inmates do is US$3.45 a day

IWOC has posted images of inmates who have been sent to solitary confinement, most of them are people of colour.

Ronald Brooks is one inmate who, according to IWOC, was sent to solitary confinement and transferred to another prison after posting a Facebook live video to support planned strike action in June.

“In order for any of us to be productive, poverty must go, slavery must go… poverty level wages that make us poor… must go,” Mr Brooks said in the video.

The Sentencing Project has found that one-in-three men of colour and one-in-18 women of colour are likely to be incarcerated in their lifetimes.

'African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites,' according to a Sentencing Project 2016 report.

'In 11 states, at least one-in-20 adult black males is in prison.'

According to US Bureau of Justice Statistics quoted in that report, 35 per cent of state prisoners are white Americans, 38 per cent are African-American and 21 per cent are Hispanic, with 12 states having more than half their prison population African American inmates.

The state of Oklahoma has the highest rate of incarcerated African Americans with 2652 people behind bars as opposed to 580 white Americans imprisoned.

The strike started on August 21, which was the anniversary of when George Jackson was assassinated by San Quentin guards in 1971, and is expected to end September 9, the anniversary of the Attica uprising in 1971 in which a protest over conditions left 43 people dead.

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