Inmates in Florida's prisons launched a month-long strike on Monday in protest of the state's use of "modern day slavery" within its correctional facilities.
In a statement released by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, one of several advocacy groups supporting the movement, the state's prisoners urged the prison population to refuse all work assignments during the strike:
We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances...Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.
African-Americans make up about a third of Florida's prison population, despite accounting for only about 17 percent of the state's overall population. Calling their movement Operation Push, after Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1970s campaign to improve the economic status of African-Americans, the state's inmates are fighting against the Department of Corrections' price-gouging practices and Florida's elimination of parole as well as its use of unpaid labor by prisoners.
Florida is one of five states that offers no payment to inmates for their work—from washing prison uniforms and cooking meals to completing maintenance work and serving on cleanup crews after Hurricane Irma hit the state last September.
"There's a word for that, it's called slavery," Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told the Guardian. "Some states might say they pay 10 cents a day, or 15 cents an hour, or whatever, but here they make it pretty clear they don't pay prisoners anything, they're not going to, and prisoners are totally enslaved at every level."
On top of receiving no compensation for their work, inmates—and their families—have to come up with money to afford food and other items sold in prisons.
"We can no longer allow the state to take advantage of our families' hard earned money by over-charging us," wrote the inmates in their statement. "Take for example: one case of soup on the street cost $4.00. It costs us $17.00 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It's not just us that they’re taking from. It's our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of."
Black Lives Matter, several local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Florida State University's NAACP chapter are among more than 100 groups that have announced their support for the movement. Many of the groups planned to hold a rally with inmates' friends and families at the state's Department of Corrections on Tuesday.
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On social media, racial justice advocates expressed their support as well.
Today, incarcerated men and women are going on strike to protest the slave labor they are demanded to partake in.
The 13th Amendment allows this, but it is wrong. It must be protested. All slavery should be banned in this country. Period. https://t.co/2Of7n3zLBc
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) January 15, 2018
We're standing in solidarity with our inmates in Florida prisons who are on strike today - protesting prison overcrowding, brutal living conditions, and working for no or little pay. #MLKDay https://t.co/c2vgpfycdX
— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) January 15, 2018
Florida's prison laborers are going on strike today to protest slave labor in prisons. Half a century since the March on Washington, a reminder of how many things remain unchanged. By @jbwashing. https://t.co/16CiV3sWvp
— mlk was a socialist (@SeanMcElwee) January 15, 2018