From California to Alabama the fight against prison slavery heats up

From California to Alabama, the fight against prison slavery heats up

  • Published on
    May 7, 2024
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy, Prison slavery
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Watch our event with a brilliant panel of activists discussing forced prison labor in the U.S.

For the first time in Alabama’s history, the Governor and Department of Corrections are being sued for violating the state constitution which was amended in 2022 to abolish all forms of slavery, including prison slavery.

In California, advocates and state representatives press once more to change the state constitution to finally abolish all forms of slavery.

In Alabama, the law has changed but the practice lives on

On International Workers’ Day, six individuals incarcerated in Alabama prisons filed a lawsuit against Governor Kay Ivey and Commissioner John Hamm claiming they were compelled to engage in labor against their will.

Trayveka Stanley, Reginald Burrell, Dexter Avery, Charlie Gray, Melvin Pringle, and Ranquel Smith are seeking legal recourse to ban forced labor within the state’s prison system. They also seek protection from retaliation should they refuse to work and demand the expungement of disciplinary records related to a prison strike in 2022 that protested forced labor practices.

Central to the lawsuit are allegations of coercion, with the plaintiffs citing frequent threats of solitary confinement and the withdrawal of earned good time for those who refuse to work.

This legal challenge is deemed significant by the Center for Constitutional Rights, marking the first of its kind in Alabama and potentially setting a precedent for future cases nationwide.

CJ Sandley, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated,

[This is] about eliminating the control that forced prison labor enables the state to exercise over Black people – an extension of the control exerted by the state through slavery, the Black Codes, convict leasing, and Jim Crow.

In 2022, Alabama amended its constitution to strike the exception clause which still allows slavery in prisons on the federal level and in most states.

Rally for reform in California

California came close in 2022 to similarly amending its constitution but the motion failed. Advocates are undeterred.

The “Quest for Democracy (Q4D)” rally, hosted by Freedom United partner All of Us or None of Us (AOUNOU), drew Californians to advocate for prison reform and support “The End Slavery in California Act,” or ACA 8 introduced by Assemblymember Lori Wilson. Despite setbacks, including the failure of ACA 3 in 2022, Wilson, Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, continues the fight with ACA 8 awaiting Senate deliberation.

Formerly incarcerated individuals shared stories of resilience amidst the harsh realities of forced labor within prisons and the importance of collective advocacy in amplifying the voices of the incarcerated and ending involuntary servitude.

The Observer reports,

According to the American Civil Liberties Union: California Action, over 65% of the people in prisons reportedly being forced to work are performing essential jobs like firefighting and paving roads.

In 2022, incarcerated workers made up 43% of the state’s firefighters, ACLU revealed. After serving time and being released from prison the formerly incarcerated are often denied public safety jobs such as firefighters.

Throughout the rally, formerly incarcerated individuals, organizers, and allies took to the stage, sharing their experiences and amplifying their demands for change.

“This is not justice. This is exploitation. Period.”

Lori Wilson won’t stop and neither will we! The Freedom United community takes a strong stance against forced labor – no exceptions. We’re working with All of Us or None to end legal slavery in the U.S. Will you join us?


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