Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why no one knows about the largest prison strike in U.S. history

The Week


Why no one knows about the largest prison strike in U.S. history

Jeff Spross10 hrs ago



Prisoners have been fighting for these rights for decades.© Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/Newscom Prisoners have been fighting for these rights for decades.

Something remarkable has gone down in prisons across the country over the last few weeks.

On Sept. 9, the two-year-old Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) announced a nationally coordinated work stoppage and protest across American prisons. Organizers say there have been strikes at 29 prisons in 12 states — Virginia, Ohio, California, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Michigan, and more. "There are probably 20,000 prisoners on strike right now, at least, which is the biggest prison strike in history, but the information is really sketchy and spotty," the IWOC's Ben Turk toldThe Intercept last month.

This new round of protests was meant to commemorate the 1971 takeover of Attica prison, which was brutally put down by the New York state government and its troopers. Just as the uprising of Attica's prisoners was in protest of abuse, racism, and abysmal prison conditions, the new wave of prison strikes has its own grievances: Mass incarceration, three-strikes laws, abusive and dismal conditions — but above all, prison labor.

By some estimates, the prison labor economy brings in $2 billion annually, and employs 900,000 people or more. The labor is often used by state governments to offset costs in their own budgets, and many companies — including IBM, Boeing, Microsoft, AT&T, and Macy's — either currently make use of prison labor or have in the past. At Perry Correctional Institution in South Carolina, for example, where TheNew Yorkerspoke with a striking inmate, the work can range from furniture manufacturing to kitchen duties, landscaping, and janitorial jobs. Across the nation, inmates make clothes, laundry supplies, name plates, park equipment, and food equipment, renovate buses, repair tires, and more.

Supporters of prison labor argue that these work programs give inmates structure and a sense of meaning and purpose — along with increasing their chances of finding employment when they're released. And indeed, there's some research to back up those claims.

The problem, critics say, is that inmates are required to work. They don't have a choice in the matter, and they're often punished (sometimes with solitary confinement) for refusing to work. Prisoners have essentially no way to argue for better compensation or better working conditions. And while inmates are ostensibly supposed to be paid prevailing wages, reality often falls far short of that. Fees, taxes, and deductions eat into inmates wages: everything from deductions for victims' compensation or restitution funds, child support, co-pays for medical treatment, or even to cover the overhead costs of the very work-release programs that give inmates the jobs in the first place. Actual pay at federal prisons runs from 12 to 40 cents an hour, and at state prison systems, sometimes the inmates are paid nothing.

It would cost prison systems hundreds of millions more each year to pay all their inmates minimum wage. Hence the enormous incentive to get by on paying the inmates a pittance. But it's also the strikers' source of leverage: At this point, the prison systems can't operate without their (nearly free) labor.

Almost two-thirds of the prisoners who work under these conditions are not white, versus just 30 percent of the American population as a whole that's non-white. The IWOC has clearly connected the dots between modern prison labor and America's shameful past use of slavery: "Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished," the union's announcement read. "They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes, and investigating our bodies as though we are animals."

Getting solid information on the scale and nature of the strikes is difficult, since prison officials can maintain pretty tight control over the information that gets out of their facilities. The Department of Corrections, not surprisingly, has denied that any work stoppages are occurring. Inmates themselves, along with their families and the IWOC, had to coordinate their activities via mail, stealth conference calls, lawyers and advocates, social media, online forums, and the occasional smuggled cell phone.

Prison strikes have a mixed record of success, and this round may already be winding down. If they don't break through now, organizers hope to boycott the outside world — namely, the companies that rely on prison labor.

It's sort of the point of the American incarceration system to consign people to oblivion; to remove them from our shared social life as punishment for their crimes. But that's also what makes it so hard to show the outside world — or get it to care — when prisoners are the ones being victimized.

Above is from:

Joe Sosnowski faces challenger Angelique Bodine for 69th state House seat


By Chuck Sweeny
Staff writer

ROCKFORD — The 69th District state House race features a three-term incumbent Republican fighting to retain his seat against a Democratic political newcomer. The district takes in part of Rockford's east side, Boone County and part of Ogle County.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, is a native of Hanover Park and a graduate of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. He was a DeKalb alderman from 1999 to 2003. In 2005, he was elected First Ward alderman in Rockford and re-elected in 2009. Sosnowski was elected to the state House in 2010. He was re-elected in 2012 and 2014.

Sosnowski, 39, works for Rockford Christian Schools, where he is director of advancement.

Angelique Bodine, 44, is a native of Great Bend, Kansas, who lives in Poplar Grove. She is employed by First Student, a privately owned school bus service, where she is a member of the Emergency Response Team. She is a graduate of Rock Valley College and the University of Illinois Chicago.

Joe Sosnowski

Age: 39
Political affiliation: Republican
Residence: Rockford

Occupation: Director of advancement at Rockford Christian Schools



Angelique Bodine

Age: 44

Political affiliation: Democrat

Residence: Poplar Grove

Occupation: Emergency Response Team member for First Student, a privately owned school bus service.


Bodine backs a number of reforms, including the Illinois Anti-Corruption Act, which would prevent former legislators from being lobbyists for five years, provide for publicly funded campaigns and limit the influence of special interests.

She supports term limits and supports the ongoing effort to reform the way state legislative districts are drawn, a job now done by state Democratic Party leader and House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Bodine said "it takes courage" to go against leadership, but said she's up to the task.

Bodine also supports a graduated income tax, because "with the flat tax of 3.75 percent, that has a greater impact on people at the lower end of the spectrum. Those who can pay more have an obligation to pay."

Bodine said she would work to create jobs and improve funding for education, "bring rail service to Rockford, and open the door to new industrial and agricultural opportunities in our area."

Sosnowski supports Gov. Bruce Rauner's efforts to reduce spending and reform workers' compensation laws, bring down Illinois' property taxes, which are the highest in the U.S., and pass a balanced budget. These things, Sosnowski said, will make Illinois friendlier to job-creating businesses.

"We also need to give institutions, like universities, freedom to operate without state mandates, and give municipalities flexibility in how they employ people," he said.

On the state income tax, Sosnowski said, "I'm open to looking at the rate, but remember, we raised nearly $30 billion in revenue when the rate was raised (temporarily) to five percent, but we didn't fix or reform anything. We've got to fix our pensions, get spending in line, otherwise you're just throwing more money at the problem."

Sosnowski said that Madigan is so entrenched that "we probably won't be able to show him the door, but hopefully we will have more Republican legislators so we can reach compromise. That's all we need to reform spending and the way we operate." Democrats currently have super-majorities in both the House and Senate, rendering Republicans powerless.

Sosnowski's campaign took in $28,005 from July 1 through Sept. 30, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Most of that money came from business political action committees or individual businessmen. His campaign spent $25,045 in the same period. Bodine's campaign spent $5,658 during that period.

Her campaign raised $10,843 from July 1 through Sept. 30, with most itemized contributions coming from union PACs. Since Sept. 30, she has received $1,000 from the Ogle County Democratic Central Committee and office space in Belvidere worth $2,350 from Poon & Le LLC.

Chuck Sweeny: 815-987-1366;;@chucksweeny

Above is from:

Rauner spends Huge on 2016 election


The latest influx comes after Rauner’s campaign fund about a week earlier sent $3 million to Durkin, to be funneled to individual Republican House campaigns.

Durkin’s campaign fund also benefited from a $3 million donation Friday from billionaire hedge-fund founder Ken Griffin, a Rauner ally.

All told, Rauner, his family and his campaign fund have doled out $45.8 million in political contributions this year. Of the $29 million the Illinois Republican Party has raised this year, nearly $21 million has come from Rauner and $4 million this month through Durkin’s campaign fund.

It's the latest spate of spending for Rauner, who became wealthy as an equity investor. In his 2014 win over then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, Rauner spent more than $65 million, including $27.6 million in personal funds.

With Madigan now Rauner's target, Durkin’s campaign fund has collected nearly $18 million this year, $12 million from Rauner and $5 million from Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citade

Griffin on Friday also wrote an additional $2 million check to Republican Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger, who is seeking election to the office against Democratic Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza.

Like the battle for legislative seats, the statewide contest between Munger and Mendoza for the comptroller’s office is similarly viewed as a proxy war for Rauner and Madigan. Munger was appointed to serve as comptroller by Rauner following the death of Judy Baar Topinka.

Munger has raised $8.6 million for the special election, mainly from five sources: $5 million from Griffin; $2 million from conservative GOP donor Richard Uihlein; $1 million from Rauner’s campaign; $260,000 from a loan from Munger’s husband, John; and $120,500 from the state Republican Party.

All other sources to her campaign added up to $267,997, records showed.

Mendoza, a former state lawmaker, has raised just more than $2 million for her campaign. The state Democratic Party, which Madigan chairs, provided $150,000; a number of labor unions have contributed as well.

All told, Griffin has made more than $11.1 million in donations this year — $5 million apiece to Durkin and Munger, and $1 million to the Liberty Principles political action committee that is allied with Rauner in several GOP legislative campaigns.

Above is from: