As the Prison Labor Strike Ends, What’s Next for Inmates?

One of the most important mass acts of civil disobedience just took place across 17 states, yet the movement has barely received any major media coverage. Since August 21, thousands of U.S. prisoners have been participating in various strikes, hoping to draw attention to the inhumane use of prison labor — in some cases, literal slavery — and ignite a call for crucial incarceration reforms.

Though the advocacy group Jailhouse Lawyers Speak has shared a succinct list of 10 goals for the strike, there’s a special emphasis on two key demands: prison labor reform and voting rights for convicted felons.

While prison labor varies depending on the state and institution, an enormous number of inmates hold jobs — largely related to manufacturing. In fact, if you’re American, it’s quite possible that you regularly use some of these items: everything from McDonald’s uniforms and dentures to Starbucks paper products, processed meats and more.

Prison laborers also produce military equipment – including fatigues, body armor, Humvees and even missiles – and police gear. And if you’ve ever spent time in a government building — post offices or public schools, for instance — it’s likely that inmates made the furniture. Chances are if you see goods featuring a “Made in USA” label, at least a portion of the manufacturing was performed by prisoners.

Incredibly, many of these people are paid literal pennies on the hour — if they are paid at all. By all measures, this is slavery, albeit neatly repackaged for our modern sensibilities.

Wondering how this is legal? It’s all due to the Thirteenth Amendment. While the amendment did admirably abolish traditional slavery in the United States, it included a convenient loophole that omits prisoners from protections for forced labor.

Labor exploitation aside, prison strikers are also demanding the reinstatement of voting rights for current and former convicts. As it stands currently, those serving time are denied access to the polls, and certain convictions may even result in life-long voter disenfranchisement.

Of course, voting rights vary wildly from state to state. In Vermont and Maine, for example, current and former inmates retain their ability to vote; severe crimes, however, will result in the permanent loss of voting rights in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Most states tend to have laws somewhere between the two extremes.

Granting incarcerated people — who still contribute a great deal to our society and economy — the right to participate in deciding who will dictate their fates might even be the best, most direct path to achieving other crucial reforms.

Take Action!

The prison strike unofficially concluded on September 9, but prisoners still need your support. Please consider expressing your solidarity with these inmates seeking reasonable civil rights by adding your name to this Care2 petition. Visibility is absolutely crucial to achieving progress in rectifying these social injustices, so make your voice heard!

Concerned about an issue? Want to raise awareness about an injustice? Join your fellow Care2 users by learning how to make your own petition and make your voice heard today!


Photo Credit: Samantha Sophia/Unsplash


Marie W
Marie W13 days ago

Thank you for caring and sharing

Thomas M
Past Member 7 months ago


hELEN hEARFIELD7 months ago


Justin M
Justin M7 months ago


Alea C
Alea C7 months ago

I didn't know about the "Made in the USA" label, but I am horrified by the revelation.

Lisa M
Lisa M7 months ago

If they committed any type of crime against any nonhuman animal(s) I have some great suggestions as to what should be next for them.

Elizabeth H
Elizabeth H7 months ago

There's not a rich man there who couldn't pay his way and buy the freedom that's a high price for the poor.

Bill E
Bill E7 months ago

The USA needs to reform its prison system. We have more people in jail than any other nation in the world and we have a terrible system of incarceration. We need to stress that rehabilitation is much more important than punishment.

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn7 months ago


Brian F
Brian F7 months ago

White collar criminals rarely go to jail.