Tuesday, December 06, 2022

USA: 4 states voted against forced labor

Voters in four states approved ballot measures that would change their state constitutions to ban slavery and involuntary slavery as punishment for crimes, while people in a fifth state rejected the measure.

Measures passed Tuesday reduce the use of prison labor in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.

In Louisiana, a former slave state, voters rejected a ballot question known as Amendment 7, asking whether they supported a constitutional amendment to ban the use of involuntary slavery in the criminal justice system. Is. Before the election, State Representative Edmund Jordan, a Baton Rouge Democrat and author of the amendment, reportedly asked voters to reject the measure because the wording on the ballot differed from his proposal.

Jordan did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday morning.

The four approved initiatives would not force immediate changes to state prisons, but could raise legal questions about the practice of forcing prisoners to work under sanctions or at risk of loss of privileges if they refuse to do so. Huh.

The results were celebrated by opponents of slavery, including demanding further amendments to the federal constitution, which prohibit slavery and involuntary slavery except as criminal penalties. More than 150 years after enslaved Africans and their descendants were freed from slavery through the ratification of the 13th Amendment, the slavery exception continues to allow the exploitation of prisoner labor.

“Voters in Oregon and other states have come together to say that this stain should be removed from the state’s constitution,” Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkle of Oregon told the Associated Press.

“Now, it is time for all Americans to come together and say that this should be removed from the Constitution of the United States. There should be no exception in the ban on slavery.”

Last year with the creation of the twentieth federal holiday, Merkle and Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Georgia, re-introduced a bill to amend the 13th Amendment to remove the slavery exception. If it receives approval in Congress, the constitutional amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of the nation’s states.

After Tuesday’s vote, more than a dozen states still have constitutions that include language allowing captive slavery and involuntary slavery. Other states have no constitutional language for or against the use of forced prison labor.

Colorado voters were the first to approve the removal of slavery exception language from the state’s constitution in 2018, followed by Nebraska and Utah two years later.

The movement to end or regulate the use of prison labor has been going on for decades, dating back to the time when former Confederate states looked for ways to maintain the use of slavery after the Civil War. Southern states used racist laws, known as “Black Codes,” to criminalize, imprison, and re-enslave African Americans.

Today, prison labor is a multi-million dollar practice. By comparison, workers make money on the dollar. And prisoners who refuse to work may be denied privileges such as phone calls and family visits, as well as face solitary confinement, all of the troubling practices used during pre-Civil War slavery. Those punishments.

“The 13th Amendment didn’t really end slavery, it made it invisible,” Worth Rise Group director Bianca Tylek told the Associated Press in an interview the day before the election.

He said the passage of the ballot initiative, especially in Republican states like Alabama, “is a great indication of what’s possible at the federal level.”

“There’s a huge opportunity here right now,” Tylek said.

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