According to Gammill, "dismal, absolutely terrible" living conditions triggered the work stoppage. Inmates are calling for the appointment of an oversight committee to process grievances, for better healthcare and a reduction in the use of solitary confinement, a practice which is prevalent in Texas.
Although such confinement isn't intended to be effective after periods of 30 days or longer, some prisoners in Texas have in solitary for over 20 years.
Gammill added that there was a period in the 1970s and 80s when the federal government took over the Texas prison system, demanding that it meet constitutional requirements, but improvements soon vanished.
"Over time we've seen small improvements when we had the federal oversight, but over the last 20-30 years things have really degraded," she claimed.
According to the PJL director, over 135 000 prisoners across the state currently provide all kinds of labor, ranging from janitorial services to harvesting crops, laundry and creating commodities for sale to state institutions. Violations of the constitutional rights of prisoners are ongoing. Performing arduous labor for no pay, often in extreme heat, is reminiscent of America's slavery past, Gammill states.
Gammill noted that April 4th was chosen to be the day of civil disobedience by prisoners as it is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, an icon of humanitarian justice and civil rights.
"It really is telling that prisoners are coming together, banding together in the most unadvantageous circumstances…in a cry to draw attention to the conditions that they face every day," she said.
PJL submitted a petition to the US Department of Justice for an investigation into the conditions in Texas prisons.