Support the Georgia prisoners

January 26, 2011

Prisoners in at least six prisons in Georgia organized the largest prison strike in U.S. history in December to demand better living and working conditions. The weeklong strike ended on December 15, but supporters on the outside are still pressing for the inmates' demands.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty issued this statement on January 17, outlining the demands of the prisoners and urging support for the struggle.

ON DECEMBER 9, 2010, prisoners in at least six prisons throughout Georgia coordinated the largest prisoner strike in this nation's history.

In a spectacular show of solidarity, prisoners came together across racial, ethnic and religious lines to call for improvements in prison conditions.

The list of demands that sparked the strike follows below. These demands continue to be urgent needs of the prisoners, as they continue their struggle for fair and humane treatment:

-- A living wage for work: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the Department of Corrections (DOC) demands prisoners work for free.

Educational opportunities: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

Decent health care: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care, and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

An end to cruel and unusual punishments: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

Decent living conditions: Georgia prisoners are confined in overcrowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

Nutritional meals: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

Vocational and self-improvement opportunities: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

Access to families: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

Just parole decisions: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Behind bars in a U.S. prison

WE LOUDLY echo the need for these changes and join in solidarity with the Georgia prisoners and other activists calling on the prison authorities to meet these demands.

Our prisons stand as silent tombs. Millions are warehoused with few educational opportunities in "correctional" facilities that serve only to punish and dehumanize. Medical care is poor, food is substandard, and Georgia prisoners who work are not even paid the paltry sum prisoners in other states receive.

Racism underpins the entire prison structure. One million of the 2.3 million locked up are Black, incarcerated predominately for nonviolent drug-related crimes. While Black men make up only 6 percent of the population, they make up more than 40 percent of those behind bars.

The prison system is notorious for inflaming tensions between racial, ethnic and religious groups. The solidarity and multiracial unity built between the strikers is thus even more remarkable--a shining example of hope for future struggles.

We applaud these courageous prisoners and take inspiration from their struggle. The brutal retaliation from prison authorities--shutting off heat, beating and putting prisoners in solitary confinement, confiscating their belongings--is despicable.

The prisoners, understanding that the prison administration would bring the full weight of repression to bear on them, braced themselves for reprisals. They stood strong, and their one-day action grew into a full week before some prisoners began going back to work.

As of this writing, 37 prisoners are "missing," possibly relocated to other prisons. One prisoner, Terrance Bryant Dean, was beaten nearly to death by prison guards and transported to a hospital without any official notifying his family.

A newly formed group, "Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners' Rights," has sent delegations to the prisons to meet with prisoners and representatives of the Department of Corrections to address the concerns the prisoners have raised--the 37 "missing" prisoners and the human rights violations suffered by these prisoners.

We in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) know full well the difficulty of drawing attention to the concerns of prisoners. Politicians and lawmakers care little about the depths of inhumanity visited upon those behind bars.

Fearing accusations of being "soft on crime," they say nothing of the misery millions suffer everyday in these destitute cages.

The "voiceless" are afforded few means to make their plight known and to rectify their situation. The Georgia prisoners knew that if they wanted change, substantive change, they would need to do it themselves. So they did.

They organized a peaceful work stoppage with the use of cell phones and word of mouth. In so doing, they pulled off the largest prisoner strike in U.S. history. Word spread from behind the prison walls, and soon, activists on the outside were lending a hand in the struggle, spreading the word far and wide with a petition drive, call-in campaign and media support.

Members of the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners' Rights--which includes the NAACP, the Green Party of Georgia, the ACLU, U.S. Human Rights Network, All of Us or None, the Ordinary Peoples Society and the Nation of Islam, among hundreds of other groups--are meeting with prison administrators to press for changes.

The CEDP applauds these efforts. We stand with all prisoners and activists on the outside in this historic fight. We hope this marks a new era of struggle for prisoner justice, with changes not only to brutal prison conditions in Georgia, but all over the country. We offer our voice to the chorus of support and our determination to help in anyway we can.

The struggle continues.

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