“We have an opportunity to stamp it out once and for all. We’re not going to stop until we get it done,” – Samuel Brown, formerly incarcerated person
Lawmakers in California and Nevada are reportedly advancing legislation to remove language from their state constitutions that permits slavery as punishment for a crime.
The punishment or exception clause in the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This legal exception has entrenched a legal form of slavery in the U.S. since the Thirteenth Amendment’s ratification in 1865.
Today, over 1.2 million people are currently incarcerated in state and federal prisons across the United States. Approximately, two-thirds of them are forced to work, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
In California and Nevada, incarcerated people are forced to work for less than $1 per day doing cleaning work, yard work, and fighting fires. People who are incarcerated and subject to the inherent power imbalance in the prison system are threatened with limited visitation rights, no phone calls to loved ones, and not being able to purchase necessary items from the commissary if they do not agree to work.
Under these conditions, it’s easy to understand how slavery and abuse are systemic components of the U.S. prison industry.
States taking action in 2023
Freedom United partner, the Abolish Slavery National Network, says that around a dozen states are set to eliminate the exception clause from their constitutions this year.
In California, more than 40 supporters of the measure gathered Wednesday outside the state Capitol, where lawmakers and formerly incarcerated people talked about the impacts of forced labor.
Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson, a Democrat representing part of Solano County, is introducing this year’s proposed amendment, hoping to have a different outcome than a failed attempt last year to pass similar legislation in the state. The Senate rejected it after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration warned that if inmates were paid the $15-per-hour minimum wage, it could cost taxpayers $1.5 billion a year.
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.