Members of Congress Had No Idea About Prison Strike
Lawmakers who oversee federal prison policy -- including the top Democrat on the committee and Congressional Black Caucus Member Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) -- told HuffPost that they hadn’t heard about any protests or strikes. Prisoners were protesting living conditions and the dissent included hunger strikes, boycotts of facilities and refusal to carry out work duties have been reported in many states, from Florida and South Carolina to Washington. A list of demands posted on the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee website calls for an end to unpaid labor, the restoration of voting rights, and the repeal of a federal law that blocks prisoner lawsuits. Congress doesn’t oversee state prisons, but federal laws have a direct bearing on state prison conditions. Jackson Lee did say she was aware of other recent protests by prisoners in her home state of Texas though not being aware of the national strike. She said she had toured one facility earlier this year and would pursue a prison reform agenda if Democrats can retake the House this fall. At the end of 2016, federal and state prisons in the U.S. held about 486,900 inmates who were Black and 341,200 who were Hispanic, according to Pew Research. For context, that same year, Blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population; and while Hispanics represented 16% of the adult population, they accounted for 23% of inmates. The new push for inmates and returning citizens is to regain the vote for up to six million Americans who have been stripped of their democratic rights. Other members of Congress who didn’t know about the strike include House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and the top Republicans on the subcommittee that directly oversees prisons, Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (WI) and Louie Gohmert (TX). More here.