Activist calls for reduced inmate populations in N.J.

Gary Frazier, a Camden activist, speaks outside Superior Court in Camden on Friday about his hope to reduce prison populations in New Jersey.

Gary Frazier said he started hustling drugs on the streets of Camden when he ran out of money. Then he went to prison.

But leaving prison - not being there - was the harder part.

"I didn't have anybody," said Frazier, 41, now an activist in the city. "There was nobody I could lean on."

Frazier recalled his experience Friday outside Superior Court in Camden, where he had planned a rally to call for a reduction of inmate populations in New Jersey. The sparsely attended event - he and two others - came as advocates for inmate rights called for a nationwide prison strike Friday.

On Facebook, a page about the strike said inmates should stop working at the jobs they hold for little to no pay, calling such work "slavery."

The strike was apparently organized by a group called "IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee," which says prisoners are exploited in the low-paying jobs.

The strike had no effect on the New Jersey Department of Corrections' 13 facilities, spokesman Matthew Schuman said.

Inmates are not required to hold jobs at the facilities, but those who do can perform library work, cell sanitation, food service, and other jobs. The jobs generally pay from $1.50 to $5 per day, Schuman said.

In New Jersey, the number of inmates in state facilities has dropped in recent years, from around 25,000 in 2011 to slightly more than 20,000 this year, according to the Department of Corrections' most recent report, issued in January.

The department says 60 percent of inmates - more than 12,000 - are black, followed by whites, who account for 23 percent of the population, and Hispanics, who make up 16 percent.

Frazier said he wants fewer nonviolent offenders in prison, where they can be surrounded by more serious criminals, and thus are more likely to give in to bad influences once they get out.

mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc