Californians to consider ending slavery in 2024

Californians will decide on forced labor ban in 2024

  • Published on
    June 28, 2024
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  • Category:
    Prison slavery
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In November 2024, California voters will determine whether to eliminate forced labor, including in state prisons. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 (ACA 8) seeks to end the exception in the state’s 1850 constitution that permits forced labor as a criminal punishment.

Addressing forced labor in state prisons

ACA 8 will primarily affect the 65,000 work assignments given to incarcerated individuals in California’s prisons each year.

The issue of forced labor in prisons has long been a contentious one. Incarcerated individuals often perform essential functions within the prison system, from cleaning and cooking to firefighting and construction, under threat of punishment if they refuse.

Across the U.S., incarcerated workers report facing retaliation for refusing dangerous tasks, which undermines supposed rehabilitation efforts.

Lawrence Cox, a policy fellow with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, shared his personal experience with ABC 10, noting how forced labor was prioritized over his educational goals during his 17 years of incarceration.

“I have been forced to work jobs and had jobs where I couldn’t get out. When I wanted to take my on-site college courses to complete my degree, forced labor was prioritized over my rehabilitation.”

Supporters emphasize that ACA 8 is not against prison labor but advocates for voluntary work. Currently, incarcerated workers earn between 30 to 48 cents per hour, with those working in wildfire containment earning more. Advocates insist that meaningful rehabilitation comes from the choice to work, not coercion.

California is closer than ever to abolishing slavery

In 2022, a similar measure failed due to a high cost estimate of $1.5 billion, which included paying incarcerated individuals minimum wage. This year, proponents revised the proposal to address financial concerns and it has garnered broad support, reflecting a growing consensus on the need to reform prison labor practices.

If approved, ACA 8 will align California with states like Colorado, Alabama, Vermont, and Tennessee, which have already banned forced labor for incarcerated individuals.

This is a critical moment for California – and for the U.S. It reflects a broader national movement to reassess and reform the use of forced labor in prisons. As public awareness of the issue grows, so does the demand for policies that respect the rights and dignity of incarcerated individuals.

Momentum is growing!

For Robert Boneberg, a ruling elder at Wyoming Presbyterian Church in New Jersey and Senior Campaign and Policy Counsel at Freedom United, the 13th Amendment exception must end. He initiated the process of sending an overture to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) asking the denomination to support joint resolutions in Congress to eliminate this exception.

“Whatever merit this may have had in 1865 has long since gotten to the point where it’s no longer viable. You don’t need this exception. Whatever people were thinking, it no longer stands up in 2024. You cannot have carve outs.”

The success of this measure and California’s will depend on continued advocacy and public support. Freedom United and our partners are working tirelessly to end the exploitation of the incarcerated

Join us in the fight to make slavery a thing of the past. Support our campaign to ensure all states and the federal government explicitly outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.


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