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Prisoner Rights Event Prompts Florida Prison System Lockdown

by Derek Gilna

The "Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March," held in Washington, D.C. on August 19, 2017, apparently prompted a statewide lockdown by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to prevent any displays of solidarity with the free-world marchers, according to prisoners’ rights advocates. The protest in the nation’s capital called for the removal of the exception clause in the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits “slavery and involuntary servitude” except “as a punishment for crime.”

Organizers of the march argue this exception has encouraged the use of prison slave labor in the U.S. penal system and perpetuates a form of slavery. Indeed, prisoners typically are forced to work for paltry wages or no pay at all in several states.

Speakers at the D.C. march, which attracted numerous participants, noted that previous demonstrations had sparked hunger strikes and other peaceful protests within prisons, in solidarity with outside prisoner rights organizations. Florida prison officials apparently were attempting to forestall such incidents.

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, said this was the first time he recalled the FDOC locking down all facilities and canceling visitation for what it termed a “safety threat.” He also criticized the lack of transparency in Florida’s prison system, stating, “this seems like just another effort from a fairly poorly run, mismanaged, brutal prison system.”

In the past several years the FDOC has been wracked by complaints of poor medical care, overcrowding, staff misconduct and prisoner deaths, resulting in extensive media coverage and investigations. Florida prisons have been shown to be dangerous places, thus it is ironic that the first time the FDOC locked down its entire system was in response to a peaceful protest over 800 miles away. Shortly after the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March ended, the Florida prison lockdown was lifted.

Speakers at the march in D.C. included former Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox, former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn and a representative from the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.

Separate protests in solidarity were held in a number of other cities, including in San Jose, California, which attracted around 200 demonstrators. Speakers at the San Jose event included former prisoner Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Luis Bato Talamantez, one of the San Quentin Six who co-founded California Prison Focus. 



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