The Corrections Accountability Project stands in solidarity with incarcerated people across the country participating in the 2018 National Prison Strike and fully supports their list of demands. As an organization dedicated to decommercializing justice, we call specific attention to the National Prison Strike’s second demand: “An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.”
While incarcerated, people accrue various expenses from restitution to the cost of basic necessities like underwear and toiletries. Many are also charged co-pays for medical care, purchase food to avoid poor quality rations, and chip in to help sustain families on the outside. Yet, they are paid pennies an hour for labor that keeps the prisons that cage them operating. In the most egregious of cases, incarcerated laborers are paid nothing to manufacture items that are then sold back to them in prison stores, or commissary.
States get away with exploiting incarcerated labor due to the Thirteenth Amendment, which explicitly allows for the use of slavery as punishment for a crime. This anathema in our constitution facilitates the continued enslavement of black, and now brown, bodies, which are disproportionately targeted for imprisonment. More than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we still need to protest slavery in our country and incarcerated people nationwide are risking their lives to do so.
So long as we continue to incarcerate people, we must pay prison laborers fair wages.