The Reasonable Demands of Georgia Prison Strikers
Dec 16, 2010

The Reasonable Demands of Georgia Prison Strikers

The largest prison strike in US history has recently occurred in Georgia, involving 10 prisons who engaged in a completely nonviolent strike refusing to leave their cells.  There are significant issues going on in prison systems and this event, and the demands raised by strikers, highlight both the humanitarian concerns in prisons and the ways we can improve conditions not just to better their lives but importantly to better society in general. What is most striking about there demands is how so many are reasonable steps that would actually reduce future crime rates.

Consider the following three demands: a) access to education opportunities, b) fair wages for work (in contrast to nothing, Georgia has a much worse record than most regions on this), and c) greater access to their family. What is noteworthy here is all three demands will actually lower future crime rates thus benefiting society regardless of the obvious benefits to inmates. By providing access to education (high school diplomas or basic trades, say) one increases the ability for inmates to leave the prison and engage as productive citizens opposed to, through necessity at a lack of job potential, falling back to crime. Likewise, by providing them with even very minimal pay in exchange for their labour one helps them to leave prison with a small amount of savings to help them get started. The correlation between poverty and crime is well established and these measure help to reduce the chances that these people - already now on the bottom of the totem pole - have a chance of integrating into society. The last demand, family access, is in some ways the most important. Families provide a support system for individuals so that when they leave they have people to lean on to help facilitate this transition. Strong family ties are not guaranteed, especially not through such a tumultuous experience of a prison sentence, but by making consistent access to families possible one helps to ensure a usually noncriminal support network available for them. These issues are not merely beneficial to inmates and imperative for humanitarian reasons, they are beneficial to society.

Other demands are of a more humanitarian nature: asking about better nutrition or complaining about over crowding. Georgia leads the US in having one out of every thirteen people being at some processes in the criminal justice system and disproportionately black. These stats point to larger systemic issues in the justice system that is resulting in such rates in the first place. It is relevant to note that this is consistent with my claims that supporting prisoners in education, wages and family access decreases future crime rates since Georgia is very poor on such factors compared to other states and had the worst incarceration rate.

Th prison response has been inhumane. There are reports of beatings of peaceful inmates and turning off of heat and hot water during what is winter conditions. One can imagine what makes its way to the media is underrepresented.  Prisoners are the people in our society most striped of rights and protections, which means we must be especially careful not to violate them further.

I conclude by noting that it is easy to simply vilify prisoners as bad people who commit crimes and then ignore the issues in prison systems. The media response, for instance, has focused a lot on the contraband nature of using cellphones to organize which paints them in a decidedly negative light while often neglecting to mention the failure in the prison system that led it to be the guards providing these cellphones. However, there remain significant moral and human rights issues in addition to many policies which can benefit everybody. There are many issues in prison systems from mental health problems, racial disparities, endemic violence, skyrocketing costs and the like. These strikes serve to remind us that these issues continue on the periphery of society where prisoners remain and are not going away. I thus stand in solidarity with these inmates.


UPDATE:
The following are two charts on the prison system which are important but I will leave uncommented on for now:

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