Inmates within America’s overflowing prisons are marking the end of a 19-day national prison strike on Sunday with a new push to regain the vote for up to 6 million Americans who have been stripped of their democratic rights. The strike was formally brought to a close on the anniversary of the 1971 uprising at Attica prison in upstate New York. Though details of the protest have been sketchy since it was launched on 21 August, 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. Now that the strike has ended, organisers hope its momentum can be sustained as they attempt to fulfill their demands including the restoration of the vote. Not only does the US have the world’s largest incarcerated population – 2.3 million are behind bars – it also harbors at state level some of the harshest felony disenfranchisement laws in the world.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 34 states bar citizens from voting based on past convictions. Kentucky, Florida and Iowa cast anyone with a felony out of the democratic process for life.
Prisoners are beginning to coalesce around the push to regain the vote as a means of forwarding the cause of prison reform. The effort is led by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a loose network of imprisoned women and men who were at the forefront of the national prison strike.