Three American policymakers, Congressmember Nikema Williams and Senators Jeff Merkley and Cory Booker, have reintroduced legislation in Congress which would revise the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which bans enslavement or involuntary servitude except as a form of criminal punishment.
The Abolition Amendment (SJR 33 / HJR 72) comes just days before the nation celebrates Juneteenth – a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
“This [exception] has allowed our government to exploit individuals who are incarcerated and to profit from their forced labor – perpetuating the oppression of Black Americans, mass incarceration, and systemic racism,” Senator Booker told ABC News.
Kiara Alfonseca at ABC News reports,
An ACLU analysis of prison wages found that the average prison wage is about 52 cents per hour. However, some workers make pennies per hour, meaning that basic needs can take days of work to afford.
“That is not how we effectively reintegrate people back into society. That is not a second chance,” [Dyjuan Tatro] told ABC News in an interview. “That is the prison system using this carve out and the 13th Amendment to set people up for failure.”
Senator Merkley in his statement said, “Nearly 160 years after the 13th Amendment was ratified, the evil remnants of slavery persist in the U.S., embedded in the heart of our Constitution. To live up to our nation’s promise of justice for all, we must take a long overdue step towards those principles by removing the loophole in our ban on slavery. No slavery, no exceptions.”
Congressmember Williams, who hails from Georgia, promised to “keep pushing – no matter how long it takes,” referencing the fact that the Abolition Amendment was introduced in the previous Congress with no success.
A nation-wide movement
Several states have eliminated slavery from their state constitutions thanks to public votes. These states are Colorado, Rhode Island, Utah, Nebraska, Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont. A dozen more states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida and Ohio, could join them in the next two years with advocates on the ground actively organizing to end the exception in their respective constitutions.
Amend the 13th campaign lead, Krysta Bisnauth, welcomes the opportunity the reintroduction presents. “We applaud Congressmember Williams and Senators Merkley and Booker for reintroducing the Abolition Amendment, giving Congress a chance to finish what it started in 1865 and end legal slavery in the U.S. – no exceptions.”
Together with partners, our community is demanding all states and the federal government to explicitly outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime in the U.S. and state constitutions.
We know you agree slavery belongs in the past. Let’s make sure the U.S. hears our collective call – add your voice to the campaign today.