It has been 157 years since the United States outlawed slavery, which is understood as the act by which one person is the legal property of another.
However, there are exemptions for convicted prisoners.
In most of America, Slavery is still legal as a punishment for a crime,
But on November 8, voters of five states (Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermonte) will decide whether to remove these exemptions from their state constitutions in an effort to outlaw slavery.
The result may be allowing prisoners to no longer be subjected to forced labor.
Some 800,000 people imprisoned in captivity currently work for pennies, or for nothing.
Seven states pay no wages to prison workers for most work assignments.
Proponents of the change say it is a loophole that allows exploitation and should be eliminated.
But critics argue that removing that exemption is not affordable and could have unintended consequences for the criminal justice system.
“I worked for 25 years and came home with $124”
Human rights researchers say the modern system has its roots in centuries of slavery of African Americans.
In the years after slavery was outlawed, laws were passed specifically aimed at suppressing black communities and forcing them into prisons where they would be required to work.
nowadays, Some imprisoned black Americans are still forced to take cotton and other crops on the southern plantations where their ancestors were chained.
“Never was there a day in the United States without codified slavery”Says Curtis Ray Davis II, who, before being pardoned in 2019, spent more than 25 years in a Louisiana prison convicted of a murder he didn’t commit.
Davis worked a variety of jobs in the Louisiana state peninsula—named “Angola,” after the country from which many of the African slaves from that area were brought.
“I worked for 25 years and came home with $124”Davis, who was never paid more than 20 cents an hour for her work. “It was against my will and at gunpoint,” he says.
According to Penitentiary about 75% of prisoners are black innocence projectA group that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners.
He argues that “Angola” is essentially a place where American slavery never ended,
“Even though slavery was abolished, it was actually a transfer of ownership from private slavery to truly state-sanctioned slavery,” says Savannah Aldridge. The National Network Abolishes Slavery.
His organization is working to expand the number of states that ban slavery without exception and has tried to persuade lawmakers in Washington to pass a similar law amending the US Constitution.
Colorado, Nebraska and Utah Since 2018 has passed measures to ban all forms of slavery.
Aldridge noted that the move garnered bipartisan support, the only way it could pass in Republican-dominated Utah and Nebraska.
In 2023, he predicted that 18 state legislatures would vote on legislation to outlaw slavery.
Some opponents have raised their voices against the state’s efforts to abolish the language of slavery.
The move faced some resistance from critics who say it would It is very costly to pay adequate wages to the prisoners.that they do not deserve equal compensation, or that the changes themselves may harm prisoners.
a vote in the legislature california Democrats, including the governor, warned that paying prisoners the state minimum wage of $15 an hour would cost more than $1.5 billion after failing this year to remove references to slavery from the law.
The Oregon Sheriff’s Association also opposes the measure in that state, arguing that it would “unintended consequences” And the loss of all “reunification programs,” which include low-paying jobs like library work, cooking, and laundry.
The group says that they give the prisoners something to do and “serves as an incentive for good behavior”Which is a factor during parole hearings.
According to him, there are two problems with the measure: it only applies to people who release people into preventive custody, and it could mean the end of any prison program specifically authorized by a court decision. Not there.
“The Sheriff of Oregon does not endorse or support slavery and/or involuntary slavery in any form,” the association assures voters in a pamphlet, but adds that route of measure “results in reunification.” All programs will be abolished and there will be an increase in costs for local prison operations”.
Prisoners contribute to the supply chain and economy in many ways, some of them Wonderful,
He is tasked with making everything from glasses, license plates to city park benches.
They process beef, milk and cheese and work in call support centers of government agencies and major corporations.
It can be difficult to track which companies used prison labor, as the work is usually done for a subcontractor.
The subcontractor then sells the products and services to larger companies. Sometimes their origin is unknown.
las Companies that previously benefited from prison labor Contains only Utah American Express, Apple, Pepsi-Co and FedExAccording to a June report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
At least 30 states have included prison personnel in their emergency operations plans for natural disasters and other civil disturbances.
As the ACLU reports, they fight wildfires in at least 14 states.
“necessary but not sufficient”
Even then, Life of prisoners is unlikely to change overnight If all five states with the ensuing votes support a change.
“These referendums are necessary but not enough to end slavery”ACLU human rights investigator Jennifer Turner says.
Courts will still have to explain what rights jailed employees have and whether they will get benefits such as sick leave.
States that had previously abolished exemptions for this type of slavery had mixed results.
In Colorado, a prisoner sued the state, arguing that the ban on slavery was being violated.
But a court ruled in August that voters did not intend to eliminate all prison labor and dismissed the case.
A Nebraska prison began paying inmates between $20 and $30 a week after the exemption was lifted, according to the newspaper. new York Times.
More trials are expected as prisoners continue to push for rights and protections.
Davis, who was wrongfully jailed in Louisiana, says that removing the slavery exemption for prisoners would remove an “incentive” for his home state to jail its citizens.
“I think any conscientious person who understands property law knows that Man should not be owned by other people”he calls her a la BBC,
And he says, “And they shouldn’t be owned by the state of Louisiana.”
by Max Matsa