The Austin Chronicle

Texas Inmates Strike for Better Conditions

By Chase Hoffberger, April 6, 2016, 12:28pm, Newsdesk

On Monday, April 4, inmates at seven Texas state prisons launched a working strike to combat crude living and working conditions Monday, according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, an inmate-advocacy group with contacts inside the compounds.

The inmates have refused to leave their cells in an effort to combat a series of conditions many would consider inhumane. Among them, inmates charge that they’re being barred from accruing meaningful work time, meaning that their work hours are not being used to help grant them parole when they’re first eligible. Inmates are also striking to repeal the $100 copay associated with any medical expenses, an exorbitant price to pay for basic medical care for people earning $0.00 per hour.

Inmates want a right to an attorney through habeas corpus to help indigent prisoners better argue their claims of ineffective assistance during their trials. In addition to better living conditions in general (IWOC specifically mentions the extreme heat Texas prisoners endure during the summer months and a lack of nutritious meals, among others), inmates are striking for an oversight committee to provide arbitration for inmates’ grievances.

Posts to IWOC’s website indicate that plans for the April 4 worker strike firmed up in late March. By early morning Tuesday, April 5, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed to the group that seven state prisons had enforced lockdown restrictions (an act used to mask the presence of any strike, inmates tell IWOC) in the previous 24 hours. According to a Tuesday update, the Wynne, Mountain View, and Lynaugh Units all remained on lockdown as of 7:45pm Monday evening; the Torres, Polunsky, and Roach units had been on lockdown, TDCJ confirmed, but were no longer. Officials at Robertson Unit in Abilene declined to confirm the presence of any lockdowns to IWOC.

“The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which, people believe, ended slavery, actually didn’t. There’s a little caveat in that amendment saying ‘except for people convicted of a crime,’” IWOC’s Jim Lo Duca told RT America during a Monday interview, in reference to the amendment’s clause dictating that the prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude does not apply to those being punished for a crime. “Legally, prisoners are still slaves, just like before the Civil War, and they’re treated as such. Which means, when we talk about wages for prisoners, they could be working for nothing, or $0.05 an hour. It’s horrible.”

The Intercept reported Monday that prisoners in Ohio, Alabama, Virginia, and Mississippi become aware of the efforts of Texas inmates and have begun plans to launch a nationally-coordinated workers strike on Sept. 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica riots.

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