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The Minnesota Daily

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Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”
Ettinger reflects on his presidency
Published April 22, 2024

U.S. Prisons Need an Overhaul

Prisoners have human rights, too.

I came across a recent article on CNN that shed light on issues prisoners face while incarcerated. Many of us already know that people serving time work as part of their rehabilitation efforts. What I was shocked to find, however, is that hardly any of these prisoners are fairly compensated for their time.

With the help of inmate advocacy groups, prisoners around the U.S. have been organizing strikes in opposition to their mistreatment.. Through contraband cell phones and snail mail, strikes have spread from prison to prison, crossing state lines in many cases. Mainly through self-education, inmates have realized that the treatment they face is unacceptable, and they are now beginning to take a stand against the violation of their rights. Others have orchestrated hunger strikes, refusing to eat until prison officials can provide them with better food and health care. This is an uprising unlike any we’ve seen in the prison system in a long time.

Even with inmate advocacy groups pushing for change, officials have refused to acknowledge the situation. Prison administrators insist that labor strikes never happened in their facilities and that the work their inmates are doing will prepare them for the real world — they don’t need to be paid to gain experience. Others insist that organized hunger strikes weren’t true hunger strikes because prisoners still ate food from outside sources. This outright denial is absurd, and it obscures the hard truth from the general public.

The retaliation from guards and administrators with regard to the strikes isn’t encouraging either. The majority react violently, taking frustrations out on inmates in the form of beatings and forced solitary confinement. More often than not, prisoners report that officials will acquiesce to their demands, promising to implement changes, but then go back on their word as soon as the inmates return to work.

We need to find a way to reform our prison system so that prisoners are given the rights they deserve, and if they feel they are being mistreated, they should have the right to make their dissatisfaction known without fear of retaliation from guards and administrators.

People who are serving time for their crimes may not have all of their rights, but that doesn’t mean they should be forced to work without pay or be fed substandard food. Their sentence does not automatically strip them of basic human rights, and the prison system needs to find a better way for inmates and supervisors to communicate.

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