Alabama prisoners strike to end slave labor, unjust conditions
Prison officials retaliate with inhumane tactics as prisoners issue demands.
Inmates at three Alabama prisons have issued unified demands after initiating a widespread work stoppage on May 1, 2016. They are protesting exploitative labor policies and horrific prison conditions caused, in part, by overcrowding; Alabama’s prisons are operating at close to 200 percent over capacity.
Prison staff have attempted to suppress the civil disobedience by significantly reducing prisoners’ meal portions, a tactic known as “bird feeding.” Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has brought work release prisoners from other facilities in an effort to undermine the strike.
Strikes are taking place at St. Clair Correctional Facility, Holman Correctional Facility, and Staton Correctional Facility.
The Free Alabama Movement, an organization comprised of inmates at numerous prisons, recently released demands through their advocate on the outside, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow. Glasgow is the founder of The Ordinary People Society and a leader in the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement. He announced the demands in a press conference on May 7, 2016.
A summary of the demands are as follows; the full text drafted by prisoners can be found at http://bit.ly/AlabamaPrisonStrike
•End prison slavery. ADOC compels prisoners to work without pay, or for rates as low as 17 cents per hour. Prisoners have to pay fees in order to work. Their labor can be for the state, or for private companies that reap huge profits; in Alabama prison labor is a multi-million dollar industry. These exploitative conditions amount to prison slavery.
• Repeal the Habitual Offender Statute. More than 8,000 people in Alabama are serving “enhanced mandatory sentences” under this law, which adds decades––and sometimes life without parole––to sentences for people with prior convictions, even if their current offense is relatively minor.
• Expand the scope of the Alabama Innocence Inquiry Commission. This commission was originally proposed to investigate innocence claims by all felons, but was changed to apply only to death row claims.
• Abolish mandatory Life Without Parole (LWOP) for first time offenders. This would give first time offenders a chance at rehabilitation and alleviate inhumane conditions cause by overcrowding.
• Reform the Alabama Parole Board. There is no clear criteria for parole eligibility. The parole board is arbitrary and biased.
• Amend Alabama’s “drive-by shooting law” to apply only to gang-related activity. This law––originally intended to curb gang activity––has resulted in judicial overreach by enabling murder charges to be elevated to a capital offense based solely on the shooter’s location in a car, with or without proof of gang-related activity.
• Implement the Education, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Preparedness Bill. This legislation, put forth by the Free Alabama Movement, would provide educational opportunities to all incarcerated people in the state, reduce the prison population to meet the actual capacity of ADOC, and other reforms.
“We’ve appealed to the courts. We’ve appealed to the legislature. We’ve appealed peacefully and nonviolently. So I can only see the events of this past week as a continuation of the prisoners’ plea for help. Warehousing overcrowded dormitories are unsanitary and unsafe. Oppression breeds resistance,” said a prisoner who has been held in solitary confinement at Holman Correctional Facility since 2014.
In addition to the prisoners’ demands, Pastor Glasgow is calling on ADOC to stop blocking his advocacy efforts. His demands to ADOC are:
• Allow access to basic public records. State officials have denied access to documents regarding law enforcement training and policies for use of deadly force, as well as what, if any, grievance procedure is available to prisoners.
• Enable a fact-finding mission within prisons. State officials have denied Glasgow and his colleagues permission to enter prisons in order to engage people about conditions.
• Comply with court orders. In 2008 Glasgow obtained a court order mandating that he be allowed to conduct ministry and civic engagement activities inside prisons, but he is being denied access.
“Currently, across the board, Alabama law enforcement officials are operating in the dark and under cover of law in a manner that permits them to violate the constitutional rights of citizens, incarcerated or otherwise,” Glasgow said.