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Iowa Activists to Protest in Support of Nationwide Prison Strike

Iowa has eight prisons to house male inmates at various security risks and one to house female inmates. (
Iowa has eight prisons to house male inmates at various security risks and one to house female inmates. (
August 21, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa activists will protest outside the Iowa Prison Industries office in Des Moines today in solidarity with the prison strike planned in at least 17 states.

The prison strike is planned to run through September 9, the date of the 1971 Attica prison uprising in New York that left 43 people dead. Patrick Stall is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America Des Moines chapter and said local activists are calling on Iowa Prison Industries to pay its incarcerated workers a prevailing wage.

"Across the country, most prisoners won't make more than $1 an hour for their labor,” Stall said. “In Iowa, working inside a prison, a prisoner will make anywhere between 27 cents and 68 cents an hour. At a private corporation like Iowa Prison Industries, the wage is something like 58 cents to 87 cents an hour."

Organizers expect a significant number of inmates across the country to refuse to work and some to participate in hunger strikes and boycott purchases from prison stores in an effort to call attention to prison labor issues and inadequate prison conditions.

A report from Iowa's Human Rights office in 2017 said the state's prison population should remain stable through the end of this year, but will likely increase 24 percent by 2027.

Stall said using incarcerated people for cheap or free labor is a widespread practice as punishment for a crime. But he argues it's a form of modern-day slavery.

"Prisoners are compelled to work as part of their program for getting out,” Stall said. “They might have a harder time being paroled, for instance, if they refuse work assignments when they're in prison."

In 2016 a prison strike was organized in 12 states, with 24,000 prisoners taking part. The latest prison protests are related to the South Carolina riot at the Lee Correctional Institution earlier this year that left seven people dead and an additional 17 injured.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA