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Alabama prison strike over ‘neo slavery’ conditions continues amid claims of severe crackdown

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Incarcerated workers in Alabama allege that prison officials are using food deprivation to retaliate against their ongoing labor strike and pressure them into returning to work. The labor strike began on Monday and includes thousands of workers at all the major facilities of the Alabama Department of Corrections, or ADOC. Alabama is one of five states that do not pay incarcerated people for forced labor. 

According to the Free Alabama Movement, a grassroots organization founded by men incarcerated in Alabama that supports nonviolent and peaceful protests for civil and human rights, the incarcerated strikers have had their meals cut from three per day to two. They have also allegedly been provided uncooked hotdogs, potato salad on white bread, American cheese on white bread, dry cereal and other meager meals. Reporters have received calls from incarcerated strikers who say that they are being underfed and are hungry

In response to the strike, the ADOC has allegedly put every prison participating in the strike on lockdown, severely restricted incarcerated people’s freedom of movement and access to food, responded violently to strikers and brought in riot police to shut down organizing efforts. The ADOC is also allegedly forcing men on work release to return to prison to fix meals during the strikes, denying access to medical care for incarcerated diabetes and cancer patients, and refusing to clean and repair the facilities. 

The labor strike comes on the heels of photos and videos of Kastellio Vaughan — which were shared by his sister — depicting alleged medical neglect and physical abuse suffered by those incarcerated in Alabama’s prison systems. 

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On letters signed “Alabama’s slaves,” organizers stated that their work strike was “in protest of the continued institution of neo slavery” and that they would “no longer willingly contribute to our own dehumanization.” 

In 2020, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama for the unconstitutional conditions of the state’s prison system. According to the complaint, Alabama failed to provide adequate protection for incarcerated people — including from sexual abuse and physical violence — failed to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and encouraged correctional officers to use excessive force. This case is currently scheduled for trial in 2024. 

Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit whose mission is to work to achieve justice and equity for all Alabamians, has found that Alabama prisons have the highest rate of homicide in the country — eight times that of the national average. Additionally, it found extreme overcrowding and a culture of management deficiencies and corruption. 

Incarcerated workers contend that Alabama’s prisons are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and that, despite the Department of Justice lawsuit, the issues have only gotten worse. Organizers of the labor strike have demanded that the Department of Justice immediately intervene in the crisis and put a stop to “Alabama’s systematic denial of [incarcerated people’s] human dignity and rights.” 

Additionally, labor strikers are calling for structural changes at the ADOC that would address the correctional officer’s treatment of incarcerated people, healthcare and sanitation at the facilities. Organizers are also demanding policy changes relating to existing carceral laws, such as the habitual offender law, presumptive sentencing, drive-by shooting statutes and minimums for juvenile offenders. 

Attempts to interview incarcerated strikers for this article were challenging. In one instance, while I was speaking with strike leader Kinetik Justice, the communication abruptly ended. Free Alabama Movement later relayed a message that he had been allegedly assaulted and placed in segregation to isolate him from the other organizers. 

Despite this allegedly violent backlash, organizers remain dedicated and continue to demand institutional change and accountability. As one anonymous man incarcerated in the ADOC shared: “It should be considered that those who participated in this historical event are tired of being treated as less than animals and are demanding their humanity to be given back.”

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