Thousands of Alabama inmate workers began a labor strike Monday to protest poor prison conditions across the state. Inmates are demanding change because prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and dangerous. Diyawn Caldwell, president of Both Sides of the Wall, an advocacy group, said the organization is coordinating the strike with inmates and predicted that about 80 percent of the 25,000 people in prison would participate, forgoing their usual jobs as cooks and cleaners. The strike is intended to draw attention to the overcrowding crisis. It threatens to disrupt the prison system as officials take on the work that inmates usually do, reports the New York Times.
The Alabama corrections system has drawn the ire of the U.S. Justice Department, which released a report in 2019 that outlined “severe, systemic” conditions that violated constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment because inmates were in danger of being raped or murdered. The report found that major prisons were at 182 percent of capacity, and that prisoners endured some of the nation's highest rates of homicide and rape. Willie Williams, an inmate at the Staton Correctional Center, said by phone that he and dozens of other inmates were tired of the “inhumane” conditions at the prison, which he described as a “filthy place” covered by mold. Inmates and activists had been planning the strike since July because of the realization that “there is nothing good that comes from” the state corrections department. “There’s no rehabilitation. There’s no compassion.” Caldwell, the wife of Cordarius Caldwell, 34, who is incarcerated at Ventress Correctional Facility for murder, said until officials met their demands, including improved living conditions and creating a more transparent and streamlined parole process, the strike would continue. The prisoners are calling for creating a review board to oversee the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and repealing the Habitual Felony Offenders Act, a law that results in longer prison sentences.