David C. Fathi is the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.
Prisoners across the United States began a strike Aug. 21 that is scheduled to last until next Sunday. The strike’s organizers are encouraging their fellow prisoners to refuse to work and to engage in other forms of peaceful protest in support of 10 demands.
It’s hard to know exactly how many prisoners are taking part in the strike; prisons are closed environments, sealed off from the outside world. But state prison officials in Indiana, Nevada and North Carolina have already acknowledged strike activity, and there are credible reports of actions in several other states. The strike is likely one of the most extensive in the nation’s history.
Prisoners strike because they have virtually no other way of expressing their grievances. They can’t form organizations without the blessing of prison officials; in some prisons, even petitions are banned. And in every state except Maine and Vermont, convicted prisoners are deprived of the right to vote, sometimes even after they’ve served their time. Restoring the vote to all citizens — including the incarcerated — is one of the strikers’ demands.