Totally Abolish Slavery by Amending the Thirteenth Amendment

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The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865 to abolish slavery. But the language of the amendment left a gaping loophole: it allows slavery and involuntary servitude "as a punishment for crime." 

"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."

Allowing any person to be enslaved in this country for any reason cannot be reconciled with fundamental American values. We believe that slavery should be unconstitutional in the United States under all circumstances and without exception.

The end of slavery left Southern plantation owners and other businesses that depended on the labor of enslaved people in desperate need of workers. Because of the Thirteenth Amendment's exception permitting enslavement as punishment for crime, the criminal justice system became one of the primary means of continuing the legalized involuntary servitude of African Americans.

Initially, states passed discriminatory laws to arrest and imprison large numbers of black people, then leased prisoners to private individuals and corporations in a system of convict leasing that resulted in dangerous conditions, abuse, and death. While states profited, prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, hazardous, and often deadly work conditions. Thousands of black people were forced into a brutal system that historians have called “worse than slavery.”

By the middle of the 20th century, states abandoned convict leasing due to industrialization and political pressure and extended slavery through chain gangs and prison farms. 

Today, the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate and 70 percent of the more than two million people incarcerated in America are non-white.

Call on Congress to amend the Thirteenth Amendment to make all slavery and involuntary servitude unconstitutional in the United States, without exception.