This guide was created to help with researching and provide information regarding the national prison labor strike that took place starting September 9, 2016. This was a nation wide protest with prisons in 12 states participating. In order to understand this strike there are three main sections of information: A history of the Attica Prison Riots, information on incarceration, and strike resources/information on labor in prisons.
The strike was organized to call attention to the labor practices that are currently in place in most prisons. Labor policies are decided on a state level and a federal level. Each state and federal prison system can decide what and if people who are incarcerated should be paid. In states where the work is paid, it is below minimum wage and without the protections afforded to workers on the outside. In the case of the Federal Prison system the pay ranges from 12¢ to 40¢ an hour. In some states, such as Alabama people who are incarcerated work without pay.
Organizers and workers involved with the strike argue that this is a form of modern day slavery. When the abolishment of slavery was ratified with the 13th amendment in 1865 it included the clause
“except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”
This is what allows prisons to not pay workers or pay below minimum wage. The courts have ruled that people who are incarcerated are also not protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act because theirs is not an employer/employee relationship with the prison system.
The work they do helps maintain and support the prison system from cleaning to food prep to counseling. In some cases they are doing work for outside companies, such as Victoria’s Secret. At some facilities the work they do profits the prison system itself. Texas Correctional Industries operates as an arm of the Texas Correctional Department. You can buy the goods that were produced by people who are incarcerated. Sales for 2015 were $85 million. However, people who are incarcerated in Texas are not paid for their labor.
When people who are incarcerated write about the lack of pay for work they often reference the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 4:
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”
Article 23 of the UDHR is also applicable:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
This strike started on September 9, 2016 the anniversary of the Attica Riots. Attica showed people outside of the criminal justice system what was happening in prisons. The prison was overcrowded, and the calls for change had not been honored by people in charge of the prison.
The demands of prisoners in Attica are similar to the demands today. While the organizers are allowing each facility to put forth its own demands they relate to labor conditions, living conditions and treatment. By linking this strike with Attica, it shows how the conditions have not changed since 1971.
In order to understand the prison system and incarceration I have presented different resources that deal with this subject. Incarceration is not something most people have to deal with. Only one out of 111 white women will be incarceration. This is often an out of sight out of mind topic, as well as a subject that is hard to get definitive information about. Information coming out of and about the prison system is not always easy to find or confirm, and the media portrayal is exaggerated or only tells one part of the story.
A jail is where people await trial, or sentencing. This may also include people who are serving shorter sentences.
A prison is where people who have been convicted of a crime serve a longer sentence.
Transcript of 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865)
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.
From Our Documents a joint project of the National Archives and Records Administration and other governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Additional resources about the 13th Amendment can be found on the Library of Congress' website's Web Guides for Primary Documents in American History.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified by the United Nations in 1948. It establishes fundamental Human Rights for all people worldwide. While this is not a legally binding document in the United States it does lay the ground work for how all people should be treated.