by x386868

Many people are not aware that, by constitution, slavery is allowed to continue in America. The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…” Washington State Constitution Article II #29 has a similar provision: “… the legislature shall by law provide for the working of inmates for the benefit of the state, including the working of inmates in state-run inmate labor programs…”

In 1877, prior to Washington becoming a state, then Thurston County Sheriff William Billings and former Pierce County Sheriff Jerry Smith submitted a proposal to the territorial legislature to build a prison and take custody of prisoners that, at the time, were housed in local jails. In return, the territory would provide a subsistence allowance of 70 cents per day per prisoner, $500 for transportation costs, and retain all proceeds from prisoner labor.

Billings, Smith, and land owner Oliver Shead built the Seatco Prison located in the town of Bucoda in Thurston County. Billings and his partners formed the Seatco Manufacturing Company, manned completely with prisoner labor. The prisoners were forced to work, by threat of or actual torture, at the factory under extraordinarily hazardous conditions. Seatco Manufacturing Company became one of the largest sash and door factories on the coast at the time. [1]

Today, prisoners are forced to work in state-owned business called Correctional Industries (CI) making furniture, clothing, containers, food preparation or other prison jobs doing janitorial, maintenance, landscaping for a gratuity. The gratuity is between 65c to $1.70 per hour but capped at $55.00 per month regardless of the number of hours worked. [2]

Out of the gratuity prisoners are taxed 5% for a crime victim compensation account that does not go directly to the crime victim, 10% to individual prisoners savings account that are taken for any debt owned at the end of their sentence, 20% for legal financial obligations, 20% for civil judgements, 15% for child support, and 20% for the costs of their incarceration. [3]

In addition to those taxes, prisoners are required to purchase their own hygiene, medication, and nutritional supplements at a markup from retail prices. Pay a $4.00 co-pay just to speak to medical or dental with additional co-pays for additional communications. Prisoners are also required to pay for their own medical and dental care at the same rate as non incarcerated without the benefit of company provided health care. [4]

During the height of the pandemic prisoners were forced to work in COVID-19 infected areas without proper training and personal protection equipment. Those who refused received various punishments including extended sentences. [5]

Prisoners of this state desire to work. Work provides the of feeling of self worth, pride, and being a contributing member of society. But they desire to have a say in the type, conditions, and benefit for their labor. While it is against prison rules to refuse any job, it is also against prison rules to peacefully protest their conditions through work stoppages, hunger strikes, or sit ins. [6]

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak NW, a collective of legally minded prisoners, are preparing to challenge the prison rules prohibiting peaceful protests as contrary to Washington State Constitution article I #4: “The right of petition and the people peaceably to assemble for the common good shall never be abridged.”

JLSNW has developed a proposed list of demands for prisoners of this state to vote on. Once the votes and responses have been gathered JLSNW will post the list of demands representing the collective demands for the prisoners. See These will be the demands of the prisoners once they gain the right to peacefully protest or their peaceful protest if the legal challenge is unsuccessful.

We are calling on IWW of this state to demonstrate in front of your local court houses and/or prisons on specific dates (filing of suit, service, relevant court hearings) in solidarity and support of the demands and right to protest. In return the prisoners exiting prison will be more rehabilitated and civilly minded reducing recidivism and crime rates and adding union support to IWW as a whole.

[1] Summer 2020 newsletter.
[2] RCW 72.09.100; RCW 72.09.460(2); Department Policy 700.100, 700.400 available at
[3]. RCW 72.09.111, policy 200.00(VII)(A)
[4] RCW 72.10.020(2)(b)(c), WAC 137-91-010, Policy 600.020, 700.100(IV)(A)
[5] WAC 137-25-030(1) (557), 4/28/21 557 Covid Infraction Report
[6] WAC 137-25-030(1) (746, 708, 652) [7]

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