February 6, 2024, New York and Birmingham, Alabama – In support of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and incarcerated people in Alabama’s mass prison strike today, the Center for Constitutional Rights released the following statement:
The Center for Constitutional Rights stands in solidarity with the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and incarcerated people in Alabama who announced a mass prison strike today. We unequivocally support the organizers’ demands for legislative reforms—including repealing the Habitual Felony Offender Act, abolishing death by incarceration (also known as life without parole), and reversing the near complete abandonment of parole—and their call for an end to the torture and dehumanizing treatment exacted on incarcerated people by the State of Alabama. Our solidarity with Alabama prison organizers dates back to the 1970s with our support for the Atmore-Holman Brothers’ Defense Committee.
Alabama officials are on notice that the world is watching and they cannot continue to operate with impunity. During the statewide prison shutdown organized by FAM in the fall of 2022, the Alabama Department of Corrections engaged in brutal retaliation —including depriving people of food and punishing them with solitary confinement—for refusing to work and exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and association. The First Amendment does not stop at the prison walls. The ability to withhold one’s labor is one of the few tactics of nonviolent resistance available to people in prison. The Alabama prison system traces its roots to slave plantations and Jim Crow convict leasing and today is deeply dependent on incarcerated labor to keep the prisons running and reaps considerable profits for private employers.
Since the last statewide prison strike, Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved a change to the state constitution that abolished the “punishment loophole” that permitted slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. The clause was removed as part of a larger effort to remove racist language from the 1901 constitution, which was drafted in an openly white supremacist and undemocratic constitutional convention. The Alabama Constitution now bans slavery, full stop. That means that if prison officials use violence or threats to force people to work or discipline, punish, or retaliate against them for refusing to work during the strike, those officials are violating the law and must be held accountable.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.