Canada: why prisoners are participating in the US Prison Strike

Much of the US prison system’s distinguishing features — massive racial disparities, the exploitation of prisoners’ labor by private firms, overcrowding, brutality, and much more — are the same in Canada.

Prisoners are once again on strike. Since August 21, prisoners have been engaging in various forms of protest in at least ten states. And prisoners in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, have also joined the protest wave, issuing their own statement and set of demands.

While the strike has provoked heavy-handed responses by some prison administrations, it is too early to tell if the strike will be able to force concessions. The US prison system is often characterized as uniquely unjust — which it admittedly is in key ways. So, why have Canadian prisoners risked participating in a US-based strike movement?

In the words of the prisoners themselves, “The organizers of this protest assert that we are being warehoused as inmates, not treated as human beings. We have tried through other means including complaint, conversation, negotiation, petitions, and other official and non-official means to improve our conditions.”

At this point the size and character of the US carceral state is well known: the US has the largest prison population is the world, and it has one of the world’s highest incarceration rates. And the racial disparity evident in the US prison system is staggering.

Added to this are issues related to private prisons, the exploitation of prison labor by private firms, and a myriad of other issues, that culminate into a punitive, revanchist, and oppressive correctional system. While the size of the US prison system makes for difficult comparisons, many of its other issues do not. As the striking prisoners at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, also known as “Burnside jail,” are demonstrating, much of the critique of the US prison system resonates with Canadian prisoners.

While the participation of the Burnside strikers in this latest US-based prison protest wave is unique, protest by Canadian prisoners is not — prisoners in Canada have their own long history of struggle against the injustices of the system in which they are confined.

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