Alabama inmates began striking last week over what they’ve described as inhumane treatment. Organizers say thousands have participated in the work stoppage. The protesters have a list of demands, including changes to the state’s parole and sentencing laws. Gov. Kay Ivey called the list “unreasonable.” Some prisoners have shared pictures of the miserable portions of cold food now being served, with some calling it an “attempt to starve out protests.” One image shows a hard dollop of grits served with a single slice of cheese and a few bits of canned fruit. Prison officials have said the change to meals is not retaliation, but simply a matter of capacity, because the people who typically cook are not working, reports the Marshall Project.
in Alabama and across the rest of the U.S., prisoners perform a tremendous amount of labor both within prison walls and beyond them. Prison labor can be roughly divided into two categories. There are those who work inside prisons, doing jobs related to the facility’s operation, like cooking, cleaning and washing laundry, often for pennies an hour. In some states, they don’t get any wages. Then there are incarcerated people working in non-prison jobs, like agriculture, manufacturing and call centers. Sometimes these jobs are done directly for state-run industries for similarly paltry wages, and sometimes prisoners are leased out to private companies, which often — at least in theory — promise to pay more. Exploitation is rife in all of these systems. The Arizona Republic published an investigation on how private businesses were paying the state up to $12.80 per hour for prisoner labor, but workers were only netting about 50 cents per hour after the state’s profit-taking and fees. The Republic also found that incarcerated people were sent to work in dangerous conditions with no way to complain, and were rarely trained in marketable skills useful after release.