Reason Roundup

Prison Strikes Continue, But Their Scope Is Hard to Read Amid Denials from Authorities: Reason Roundup

Plus: a challenge to Cook County's limit on inmate libraries and Texas decreases price of prison phone calls.


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Prison reform can't count on Congress. Federal efforts to reform literally any aspect of our bloated and cruel criminal justice system continue to fail, and state appetites for the issue started to slow as fentanyl deaths (and sex panic, and antifa/white nationalists, and any other excuse they could find not to reduce state power) started rising. But direct action and court battles continue to show signs of progress.

Monday marks day seven of a multi-state prison strike. Before things got started, "representatives for the strike said they anticipated demonstrations by inmates in as many as 17 states. But four days into the declared protests, they say they can confirm actions in only a handful of states," notes The Marshall Project. These have taken place at prisons in California, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington state.

Accurate information on the number of participating prisoners and prisons is hard to come by, however, and authorities at some institutions are accused of covering up inmate action and lying to the media about it.

"Officials in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New York and South Carolina, where protest activity had either been reported or rumored, all denied on Sunday that anything was amiss at their facilities," The New York Times said this morning. "Officials in Ohio, New Mexico and at the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to requests for comment."

The main thrust of the strike is against the barely-paid labor that prisoners do. "Work in prison is vital," write former inmates Chandra Bozelko and Ryan Lo at USA Today. "It gives inmates rare privacy, glimpses of humanity. That doesn't mean they shouldn't get paid what their labor is worth."

Prison labor has become the backbone of certain hard-to-staff industries, such as poultry processing. It is also a hotbed of cronyism and corruption that pits corporate profits and "criminal justice" against the rights and well-being of those incarcerated for everything from serious offenses to minor drug possession. The American Civil Liberties Union has accused Oklahoma courts of sending people to "an unpaid labor camp disguised as a rehabilitation center." And all sorts of complaints have been lodged against Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery, which gets factory labor for free from systems in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Meanwhile, in non-strike prison news, a U.S. appeals court "has breathed life back into" a lawsuit against the jails of Cook County, Illinois, notes the Associated Press. Inmates at the Chicago-area jails had argued that limitations on the amount of reading material they could have—three books and/or magazines per cell—were unconstitutional. The "Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't rule on the constitutional question in its finding last week. It returned the case to the lower court that tossed it with instructions to reconsider the matter."

And on Friday, Texas voted to cut the cost of inmate phone calls from 26 cents per minute to six cents per minute. The change is a result of negotiations that started in April.


Montana is loosening up its liquor licensing laws. But while areas hurt by restrictive policies see improvement, the new system also sets up new barriers to entry. "The law gets rid of the old lottery system, in which bidders could acquire liquor licenses for as little as $400, in markets where the licenses are worth much more," reports "Bidding opened last week for the first round of licenses, including an all-beverage license in Bozeman that has a minimum bid of $371,250. All-beverage licenses allow the holder to sell beer, wine and hard liquor."