Of all the things that are “bigger” in Texas, the colossal human misery perpetuated by its prison system had better be at the top of the list.
The Intercept reported on Monday that inmates at up to five Texas prisons are refusing to leave their cells. On Wednesday, the Austin Chronicle reported that in fact inmates at seven Texas prisons are involved in the strike, according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a union for incarcerated people. The prisoners who have gone on strike in Texas are members of IWOC.
A letter from the anonymous organizers of the strike briefly recounts the history of American mass incarceration, attributing its roots to Nixon’s “War on Crime.” The authors describe prison labor within the state as a “lucrative cash-laden business.”
The letter likens the treatment of those locked away in Texas prisons to the conditions of slaves. It reads:
“Human and Civil rights are not allowed in Texas prisons. There are so many violations to these rights on a daily basis, but we don’t hear about it because those violations, if fought against, rarely make it to the court…The truth is that ‘slavery’ it’s very much alive and thriving in Texas.”
The IWOC’s website lists demands of the strike including abolishing $100 medical co-pays and better living and working conditions, such as taking measures to prevent extreme overheating within the prisons. A 2015 report by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law found that at least 14 inmates have died in Texas prisons from extreme heat exposure since 2007.
Robert Hurst, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which oversees the state’s prisons wrote to The Intercept that the department, “is aware of the situation and is closely monitoring it.”
The Texas government is by now well-accustomed to giving such hollow PR statements on the state of their prisons. In February 2015 a couple thousand inmates at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, Texas set fire to the prison, partially destroying it. The prison primarily held immigrants accused of low-level offenses and had been spotlighted the previous year in an ACLU report on for-profit immigration detention centers.