The Rundown

Inmates Declare an MLK Day Work Strike for Better Treatment Behind Bars

Just because someone is in prison doesn’t mean they should be denied basic human rights.
January 15, 2018, 2:00pm

In Florida, state prisoners are planning to use Martin Luther King Day, the holiday honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., to demand better work conditions. The criminal justice system disproportionately affects people of color with higher rates of incarceration and fatal interactions with law enforcement, which makes the date of the strike even more prescient.

On January 15, inmates in eight separate prisons around the state are expected to cast aside their tools and halt work for a full 30 days. According to a report from Miami New Times , the strikers’ demands include better living conditions, actual wages, an end to the death penalty and prison-guard brutality, increased access to parole and restored voting rights for former felons. Prisoner rights activists have kept mum on the details of how the multi-prison strike was organized or which of the state's 145 prisons will actually strike to protect the safety of people on the inside.

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Florida is a state with lifetime voting bans on ex-offenders. Voting rights activists call the policy unfair because it continues to punish someone even after they’ve paid their debt to society and makes reintegration incredibly difficult. According to the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice advocacy organization, 6.1 million Americans can’t vote because of a prior conviction and 1.6 million are Florida residents. Critics of felony disenfranchisement argue that it’s a form of voter suppression meant mainly to keep minorities from exercising their right to vote.

Whether or not the inmate strike, called Operation PUSH, will be a success remains to be seen. But they’ve received support from various groups on the outside.

Local Florida organizations such as the Miami-Dade and Broward County Chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, Supporting Prisoners and Real Change (SPARC), and the national Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) have championed the prisoners’ cause.

What you can do:

Several workers and prisoners’ rights organizations are gathering on MLK Day for a Prison Strike Solidarity Rally outside of the Florida Department of Corrections circuit office in Miami. If you’re interested in attending, the organizers have further details listed on their event page on Facebook.

And then some:

At least 10 percent of the adult population in Florida is banned from the ballot because of the state’s felony disenfranchisement policy. Also, since one in 13 black Americans has lost the right to vote because of a prior conviction, this is a huge civil rights issue as well.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched their Let People Vote Campaign, which aims to end ex-offender voter suppression in Florida and nine other states. VICE Impact has partnered with the ACLU to help our readers take action on this very important matter.

If fighting for voter rights is important to you, here’s how you can get involved.