Inmates in Florida state prisons plan to begin a work-strike today in protest of prison overcrowding, brutal living conditions, and working for no or little pay. The strike is being coordinated between at least 10 Florida prisons, and may involve thousands of inmates’ participating in the nonviolent “laydown”—vowing, for at least one month, to refuse to show up to work assignments or buy items at their prison’s commissary.
Organizers of the strike argue that not being paid sufficiently for their work makes it exceedingly difficult for them to reenter society upon release. Florida’s policy is to give freed inmates $50 and a bus ticket, which inmates claim is insufficient to weather the shocks of reentry.
Price-gouging at the commissaries—affecting both inmates and their families who send them money to supplement low-calorie or unsavory meals—is another principal complaint. An example inmate organizers give is of a $4 case of soup that costs $17 inside prison. “This is highway robbery without the gun,” the strike announcement reads.
The inmates are also demanding the reintroduction of parole incentives for inmates serving life sentences, the restoration of voting rights to released inmates with felony convictions, and an end to the death penalty. (In 2016 the US Supreme Court found Florida’s death sentencing scheme to violate the Sixth Amendment in that a judge, and not a jury, could impose the death penalty. After the state rewrote its law to conform with that ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the updated law violated the Eighth Amendment. The state has nevertheless continued with its executions).
Organizing inmates are being supported by outside advocacy and political networks, including 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), which is run by the Industrial Workers of the World.
“We intend to sit down and refuse to work, have an economic protest,” one inmate organizer, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of recriminations, said to an IWOC interviewer. IWOC organizers shared the audio with me. “We want to create an environment where someone can do their time, be rehabilitated, and enter into society with some type of hope.”