After deadly SC prison riot, prisoners nationwide may go on a hunger, labor strike

. tdominick@thestate.com

Two years after a national prison strike rocked U.S. correctional institutions, prisoner advocacy groups are calling for a national protest in response to the April riot at Lee Correctional Institution in Lee County.

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a group aimed at providing free legal services to prisoners, and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a prisoners’ rights advocacy group, called for a 20-day strike pushing for better conditions, according to a statement.

“Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology,” a statement from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak read.

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The group is encouraging prisoners to participate in work strikes, sit-ins, boycotts and hunger strikes from Aug. 21 until Sept. 9, according to the statement.

A series of demands have been issued, including improving conditions in prisons, paying a fair wage for prison labor, providing the possibility of parole to all prisoners, allowing access to rehabilitation programs, increasing funding at state rehabilitation services and restoring voting rights to felons.

Local protesters are planning on rallying outside of Lee Correctional Institution on Saturday, Aug. 25, according to a statement from the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The protest is designed to be in solidarity with inmates entering their fourth day of strikes inside.

“We are rallying to show them that we stand with them in solidarity as they can hear our chants outside the prison in order to encourage their continued efforts during the strike,” according to the statement.

This isn’t the first time the group held a rally outside of Lee. On May 19, dozens of protesters showed up outside of the Bishopville prison championing prisoners’ rights, WPDE reported.

South Carolina Department of Corrections officials are keeping an eye out for any possible striking starting Aug. 21 within their own system, spokesman Dexter Lee said.

“The agency will take the necessary actions to ensure the prisons are safe to operate and there are no threats to safety,” Lee said.

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If the call to strike is taken up in prisons across the nation, it will be the second major movement of its type in recent years. In 2016, incarcerated individuals nationwide commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising with a strike, according to CNN.

Inmates called for better pay and respect for their human rights, according to CNN.

Nonprofit news site The Marshall Project reported more than 24,000 inmates across 12 states declined to work after Alabama prisoners organized the movement. South Carolina prisoners participated in that strike too, both CNN and The Marshall Project reported.