The following statement was issued Nov. 21 by John Studer, organizer of the Socialist Workers Party national campaign.
The elections in Florida were the most important for working people in the U.S. this year for one reason — the amendment to the Florida Constitution that restores voting rights to more than a million people convicted on felony charges passed with 64 percent in favor. This is an advance for the working class, and cause for celebration.
Supporters of democratic rights are already taking advantage of this victory in New Jersey, Iowa and Kentucky to push back against restrictions on the voting rights of millions there as well.
The purpose of the capitalist rulers’ criminal “justice” system — their cops, courts, plea-bargain frame-up operation and prisons, and associated restrictions on political rights — is not to “fight crime,” much less “rehabilitate” workers who get caught up in it. It has everything to do with keeping working people in our place.
The number of prisoners in the U.S. skyrocketed during the presidency of Bill Clinton as he pushed through legislation that imposed a raft of “minimum” and draconian mandatory “three strikes” sentences and increased the number of charges prosecuted as felonies.
As a result of the plea bargain system well over 90 percent of prosecutions never go to trial today. There are more people locked up in local, state, and federal jails and prisons in the U.S. than any other country in the world, 40 percent of them Black.
Ramón Labañino, who spent 15 years in U.S. prisons as one of the Cuban Five political prisoners, says the capitalist justice system is “an enormous machine for grinding people up.”
The Socialist Workers Party is for the vote for everyone — including workers behind bars. For ending the “cruel and unusual punishment” of enhanced sentences, solitary confinement and the death penalty.
We see those behind bars as fellow workers, not criminals. Communists and other class-conscious workers campaign politically, encouraging those they meet to study, to learn the history of the working-class movement, to think socially and act politically, to join in offering solidarity to all those who stand up for the interests of the working class worldwide.
The fight for the right of workers behind bars to get the Militant, and any other publications and books they desire, is a never-ending campaign for the party and the paper. And why every attempt to censor the Militant in prisons must be fought.
Capitalist politicians and prison officials in Pennsylvania and a number of other states are moving to restrict prisoners’ access to letters, publications and books. We join the fights against these attacks and indignities.
Over the last two years, prison officials in Florida — with the third largest number of prisoners in the U.S. — have stepped up impoundments of the Militant. Even when eventually overturned, these bans are an obstacle to workers behind bars being able to get timely access to read about politics and workers’ struggles, to think for themselves, to express solidarity if they choose.
The fights for voting rights, to end mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes” sentence enhancements, to stop prison censorship of the Militant and other literature reinforce each other. They help unite the working class in struggle.