U.N. report calls U.S. prison labor system "contemporary slavery"

U.N. report calls U.S. prison labor system “contemporary slavery”

  • Published on
    October 4, 2023
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  • Category:
    Prison slavery
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A recent report published by United Nations human rights experts denounces the prevalence of “contemporary slavery” within the U.S. prison system.

The report, a result of a comprehensive investigation following the experts’ visit to the U.S. earlier this year, reveals the harrowing realities of forced labor, shocking prison conditions, and systemic racism that plagues American correctional institutions.

Sharing stories of persons locked in solitary confinement for a decade or longer, children sentenced to life imprisonment, and pregnant women subjected to shackles during childbirth, the report called U.S. prison practices “an affront to human dignity.”

The U.S. has yet to respond.

“A contemporary form of slavery”

The official country visit by the U.N. International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement (the Mechanism) brought to light a deeply unsettling revelation.

The Mechanism is astonished by evidence stating that this access to free or almost free Black work force, through free or poorly paid prison forced [labor], exists to this day in the United States, constituting a contemporary form of slavery. Further, it received information stating that workers in prison are assigned hazardous work in unsafe conditions without the training or protective gear needed, and, if they refused to work, even for a medical condition or disability, they are punished accordingly.

The report noted the “plantation-style” prisons in Southern states, such as the sprawling Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola. “The plantation prison soil worked by incarcerated [labor] today is the same soil worked by slaves before the Civil War.”

Slavery and systemic racism

The report asserts that racism in the U.S., tracing its roots from slavery, the slave trade, to a century of legalized apartheid following slavery’s abolition, persists today. The legacy manifests as racial profiling, police violence, and other human rights violations perpetuated in the criminal justice system.

The report states that “Black people are the most incarcerated and most criminally supervised persons in the United States.”

Hassan Kanu in Reuters shares,

The U.S. “is the only country in the world that sentences children to life without parole,” for example, the panel wrote in the report. Worse still, data shows that 62% of juveniles serving life without parole are of African descent.

Those kinds of disparities also are reflected in the available data about virtually all of the most appalling rights abuses, including mistreatment of pregnant women, use of “incommunicado detention” – false arrests that are not officially acknowledged, often accompanied by other ill treatment – and forced, unpaid labor.

A call for change

The report outlines more than thirty recommendations to the U.S., including ending forced labor in prisons and ensuring the labor rights of incarcerated workers.

For years, the Freedom United community has been calling for an end to forced prison labor in the U.S. Join the movement and sign our petition to remove slavery from the U.S. Constitution.


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.

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Amber Phelps
7 months ago

So grateful every time I see Freedom United’s continuous, close coverage of the continued exploitation and violation of human rights that continues here in the U.S. As Lead State Organizer for the state of Virginia with the Abolish Slavery National Network, I look forward to continuing to work together to raise awareness on this issue in communities and push towards legislative change. You are appreciated!


Astrid Hedwig Ebrey-Henning
Astrid Hedwig Ebrey-Henning
7 months ago

What an appalling situation in a country that is the richest in the world, and the most powerful. It is an indictment on the American judicial system.

Rachel Engstrom
Rachel Engstrom
7 months ago

I wholeheartedly agree and anyone who is familiar with the on-site “work” programs would have to agree as well.

Suzy Wolski
Suzy Wolski
7 months ago

I have to admit I am pretty shocked that they are allowed to get away with this disgusting racist behavior and all it brings to my mind is Nazi Concentration Camps like Auschwitz ! These prisons are no better than death camps and we call ourselves a great nation? What year is this, 1823? This should be a national scandal! How does the south in particular get away with this? The North isn’t so innocent either! We must break this cycle of prejudice and fire anyone mistreating prisnors.

7 months ago

Disgusting but not surprised by this vile abuse of incarcerated people. This should be reported by all major news stations if they could stop talking about certain politicians for 5 minutes and talk about this affront to humanity. The US likes to refer to itself as the Leader of the Western world and some Paragon of freedom…really? The racism and violence that the country was founded on continues centuries later.

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