Repeal and Replace the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Repeal and Replace the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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The text of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution states, in Section I, that “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 Amendment was said to “abolish” slavery in the United States, but it clearly states that slavery is permissible as a justification for criminal punishment. This actually expanded slavery in the United States. We believe that the second part of Section I must be stricken entirely, and that all labor laws must apply equally to all Americans, including prisoners.

In fact, the original proposal for the 13th Amendment stated, "everywhere within the limits of the United States, and of each state or territory thereof, all persons are equal before the law, so that no person can hold another as a slave." We endorse this alternative Amendment.

The current state of prison labor in the United States has distinct roots in slavery traditions.

The passage of the 13th amendment in 1865 allowed those incarcerated to be forced to work without constitutional rights granted to them. The forced prison labor was then used to reinforce a system of racial control for years past. Southern states would criminalize minor crimes through "black codes" which drove up the arrest rate of freedmen and forced them to participate in penal labor when they could not afford the fines. During the Reconstruction era, in order to boost the Southern economy, the institutionalization of convict leasing began to take effect. Although the name "convict leasing" has been abandoned, the system still persists through government subsidized programs like the WOTC that gives corporations large tax write-offs for "employing" essentially free prison labor.

Since large corporations benefit from this arrangement, they have no incentive to find a solution to the criminal justice problem. In fact, they have an incentive to send more people to prison to increase their “workforce”.

Prisoners are expected to serve their debt to society by spending time in prisons which are supposedly “correctional” facilities. If these prisoners are not paid the prevailing market wage for the labor they perform in prison, it is very difficult to survive once released from prison. Some argue that this prison labor gives the prisoners an opportunity to learn skills and gain work experience. While this may be true, it is also necessary to leave prison with some capital in order to reintegrate into society. This increases recidivism, and creates a vicious cycle that disproportionately affects racial minorities.

We are calling on all elected officials of the United States to advance legislation repealing and replacing the 13th Amendment. It is time to end prison slave labor in the United States.