On August 21st, inmates in prisons across the country commenced a strike which is quickly becoming one of the most prolific prison strikes of the modern era. The demonstrations, which are slated to run until the 9th of September, mark the one year anniversary of a bloody uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York, which left several inmates dead. Striking tactics during the demonstration period have included refusal to work, and in some cases refusal to eat, also known as a hunger strike.
One of the highest priorities of the inmates is the securing of a fair wage for their labor. Prison laborers are often underpaid for the work they do, which included prison chores, basic trades, and sometimes dangerous tasks. According to Vox, some California prisoners have been voluntarily recruited to help combat wildfires during the state's worst season in history. These firefighters are paid a minuscule wage of $1 per hour plus $2 per day, far below the pay grade of a civilian firefighter.
On one hand, I sympathize with many of these prisoners' aims, and if I were in their situation, I would certainly feel as if I was being treated unfairly. On the other hand, I recognize that these men have committed crimes against their counties, states, and even the federal government. The fact that their labor is compensated at all could be considered an undue kindness. As a whole, however, I believe that the US prison system is in dire need of reform. Generally, prisons should only serve the purpose of restraining individuals who pose an immediate danger to themselves, others, and society. Nonviolent offenders, even those convicted of federal crimes like counterfeiting and fraud, have no place within correctional facilities.
This is not to suggest that justice not to be served. In any functional society, individuals who break the law must be punished, and justice must be upheld. All I mean is that jail time is not an ideal punishment for individuals who pose no danger to average citizens. Not only does it fail to dissuade these offenders in any way, the cost of housing these prisoners is a drain on the American taxpayer and country as a whole. I am no legal expert, and certainly not creative enough to envision punishments suitable for various crimes-such a thing is for judges and lawmakers to decide.
Whatever the crime and following consequences, reformed prisoners should be able to live normally after they have paid their debts to society. Too often, ordinary citizens are turned into criminals by the prison system, which makes no distinction between people who have committed acts of horrendous violence and individuals who made mistakes, broken the rules, but wish to simply atone for their actions and move on. The dangerous prison conditions and lack of focus on rehabilitation lead many to dive deeper into a life of crime, often ending in extended sentences and repeat offenses.
We all know this to be true within our cities and communities. For years, It's been an unspoken truth that the US prison system currently harms far more people than it helps. I am unsure how effective these strikes may be in reforming such a rooted and gargantuan system in the short term, but I am confident that with continued determination on the part of inmates, activists, and rational citizens, the prison system will slowly make strides towards justice for people on both sides of the prison walls.