Suppressed Workers: Prison Strikes in Georgia

Let’s put two uncontroversial facts out there: 70% of the American population could be jailed/imprisoned if they were caught for something they’d done and prisoners are largely non-violent. The prison population is essentially identical to the non-prison population and most prisoners represent little to no threat to society. Even among violent offenders, most are not what we might think of as violent-tempered psychopaths.

Georgia has the 7th highest incarceration rate in the US. Inmate workers are not paid for their labor.

Georgia has the 7th highest incarceration rate in the US. Inmate workers are not paid for their labor.

Prisoners are also workers. Contrary to popular imagination (and media portrayals), prisoners do not merely spend all their time behind bars watching television, eating, working out, and sleeping.  They constitute a work force routinely used, not only to run prisons, but sometimes to produce revenue for the state. Unlike other workers, however, they are either not paid wages or earn only pennies a day. Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies explains that:

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, federal inmates earn 12 cents to 40 cents per hour for jobs serving the prison, and 23 cents to $1.15 per hour in Federal Prison Industries factories. Prisoners are increasingly working for private companies as well. A significant cut of even these token wages goes to criminal justice system fees. Offenders thus have little hope of saving money while in prison, and this lack of money combined with fragile post-release support systems is an explosive formula for recidivism and reincarceration.”

Georgia prisoners are in a similar situation, though the incarceration rate is much higher in the Peach State than the national average (ranked 7th per capita in the nation).

It should not surprise anyone, then, that these ordinary Georgians are upset with their lack of pay and poor treatment. In 2010, many of them held strikes in prisons across the state, demanding better living conditions and adequate compensation for their hard work. As expected, their peaceful protests were met with state brutality. According to sources close to the prisoners, many of those same prisoners are still suffering because of their role in the protests; one of whom was “beaten severely with a hammer by guards“.

Support the Georgia prisoners and their plea for better conditions and compensation. You can show your solidarity and support in a variety of ways including letter-writing and sending books and magazines. For more information on organizing for better conditions in prisons and criticism of the prison system, see “The Other Side of the Wire: Prisoners as Workers”.

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