Georgia prison strike

On 9 December 2010, two days after Kenneth Clarke unveiled his plans for prison slavery in Britain, prisoners in Georgia State began the largest prison strike in US history. Co-ordinating their actions using mobile phones bought from prison guards who had smuggled them in, prisoners refused to leave their cells in protest against poor living and working conditions. They made the following demands:

  • A living wage for work In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, Georgia State Department of Corrections (DOC) demands prisoners work for free.
  • Educational opportunities The DOC denies nearly all prisoners any educational opportunities beyond the GED high-school certificate, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.
  • Decent health care In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies prisoners adequate medical care, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.
  • An end to cruel and unusual punishment In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC uses cruel punishments for minor infractions.
  • Decent living conditions Prisoners are confined in over-crowded, sub-standard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.
  • Nutritional meals Vegetables and fruit are in short supply while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.
  • Vocational and self-improvement facilities The DOC has stripped its prisons of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.
  • Access to families The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.
  • Just parole decisions The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole despite evidence of eligibility.

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, 1 in 13 adults in Georgia are under judicial supervision of some kind – in local jails, state prison, on parole, on probation or other control or under correctional supervision. State spending on prisons has risen five-fold since 1985. Over 4% of Georgia adults and 10% of black adults cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws.

The main striking prisons were Hays, Macon, Smith and Telfair, with additional support reported at Augusta, Baldwin, Culhoun, Hancock, Rogers, Valdosa and Ware State Prisons. The protest was deliberately non-violent, with prisoners simply refusing to leave their cells: no violence, no hostage-taking, no pretext that the State could use to justify violence against the prisoners.

The strike received support from all sections of inmates. According to one prisoner: ‘They want to break up the unity we have here. We have the Crips and the Bloods, we have the Muslims, we have the head Mexicans, and we have the Aryans all with a peaceful understanding, all on common ground. We all want to be paid for our work, and we all want education in here. There’s people in here who can’t even read.’

The DOC responded by locking down the prisons and denying that any protest was taking place. The strike, originally for one day, was extended due to the lockdown. Further measures taken, in a clear attempt to provoke violent confrontation, included cutting off heat and hot water, trying to transfer out ‘leading troublemakers’ to maximum security, withholding recreation, feeding cold sandwiches instead of hot meals and refusing to wash inmates’ clothes.

The lockdown was lifted on 14 December and prisoners returned to work on 16 December. It has since emerged that guards have engaged in punitive beatings. One prisoner is in intensive care, another required staples to his head and a third was beaten beyond recognition. Terrance Dean was so brutally beaten that DOC officials secretly evacuated him to an Atlanta hospital without informing his family. The Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoners’ Rights is demanding an investigation and information about the welfare of the 37 prisoners who have been transferred. The attitude of the State can be well gauged from the cruel and cynical comments of State Senator Johnny Grant, chair of the committee which oversees prisons: ‘If we started paying inmates, we’d also start charging them for room and board, as well. They ought to be careful what they ask for.’

The Georgia prison strikers displayed remarkable planning, unity and discipline. It is vital that everyone supports their demands, spreads word of their action, which has been barely mentioned in the bourgeois media, and gives solidarity, especially to those brutalised by the thug guards. An injury to one is an injury to all!

Steve Palmer

FRFI 219 February / March 2011


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