California gets closer to ending involuntary servitude in prisons

California gets closer to ending involuntary servitude in prisons

  • Published on
    March 22, 2022
  • Written by:
    Monica Burns
  • Category:
    Law & Policy, Prison slavery
California involuntary servitude

The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” This so-called Punishment Clause has been the object of tireless campaigning across the country in recent years. 

This week, the movement gained momentum in California as a new bill that would ban involuntary servitude in all cases passed the state Assembly.  

Involuntary servitude in Californian prisons 

The constitutional exception for involuntary servitude, which is replicated in many state constitutions, enabled states to profit from the unpaid labor of their prison populations for decades. 

Although the system of convict leasing no longer exists, people who are incarcerated in California are required to work or take part in educational or rehabilitative programs.  

Those who work earn between 8 and 37 cents per hour, or between $20 and $56 per month, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. These wages are drastically lower than the state’s minimum wage of $15 per hour for companies with at least 26 employees.  

What’s next? 

Having received the approval of the California Assembly on March 21, the bill will now go to the state Senate. If it clears the Legislature before July, the public will have a chance to vote on it this November.  

It is currently unclear what would happen if the bill becomes law. One analysis suggests it could lead to a lawsuit which in turn could result in the state having to pay incarcerated workers minimum wage.  

Assemblyman Ash Kalra said the law would make prison work voluntary, but would not affect wages. “You remove the ability to force anyone that is incarcerated to do work they choose not to do,” Kalra said. 

Los Angeles Times reports: 

Kalra said he hopes the amendment will be put on the ballot this November for voters to decide. He said he did not think an expensive statewide campaign would be needed to persuade voters to support it. 

“I think it polls pretty strongly when folks are asked whether we should get rid of the exemptions to involuntary servitude and slavery,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll build a coalition that will have the resources to ensure that this gets passed.” 

Join the movement to abolish the Punishment Clause 

Together with partners, the Freedom United 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. Join us in calling for an end to the Punishment Clause in the United States 

Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

stop icon A few things we do not tolerate: comments that promote discrimination, prejudice, racism, or xenophobia, as well as personal attacks or profanity. We screen submissions in order to create a space where the entire Freedom United community feels safe to express and exchange thoughtful opinions.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

This week

Migrant workers jailed in Qatar over demands for owed wages

Five months on from the World Cup final, migrant workers continue to report exploitative labor practices and mistreatment at the hands of Qatari authorities. Three former security guards have been jailed in Qatar for four months following their repeated requests for unpaid wages from their employer, Stark Security Services. Though lauded by FIFA as an opportunity to improve Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, workers who toiled to make the world’s

| Friday May 26, 2023

Read more