Yes, The Thirteenth Amendment Really Does Have A Loophole That Allows Slavery— Just Look At Our Prison System
The 13th Amendment, which was ratified in 1865, dictates 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.” That last exception purposefully left the door open for our government to take advantage of people convicted of crimes.
And yes, ensured that racism quietly but vigorously thrived in our country.
Scholars, activists, and prisoners have long underlined the link in that portion of the amendment with the rise of a prison system that incarcerates Black people.
Today, Black people are wrangled into the prison system at more than five times the rate of white people. Whatsmore our government uses these prisoners to profit off of their underpaid or unpaid labor. Just like the days of old.
In an interview with History Channel, law professor Andrea Armstrong of Loyola University in New Orleans explained that the “13th Amendment text allows for involuntary servitude where convicted of a crime.” She also pointed out that at the same time, black codes in the sounds allowed for “new types of offenses, especially attitudinal offenses—not showing proper respect, those types of things.”
After the Civil War, new laws sent Black people to prison at higher rates than ever before resulting in what one legal scholar describes as a “prison boom.” Michelle Alexander writer of The New Jim Crow explains in her book that “after a brief period of progress during Reconstruction, African Americans found themselves, once again, virtually defenseless. The criminal justice system was strategically employed to force African Americans back into a system of extreme repression and control, a tactic that would continue to prove successful for generations to come.”
Today’s so-called prison systems are indeed just slavery of a different name.
States and private companies continue to rely on prisoners to save them money to this day. As a citizen not in incarceration, you too profit from the system because prison labor saves you tax dollars. In 2017, it was revealed that California’s government saved up to $100 million a year by using incarcerated people as “volunteer” firefighters. Today, prisoners in California clean state parks and work as underwater welders. In New Jersey prisoners are used to remove roadkill off of the roads and in Washington, the government utilizes prison labor to recycle mattresses.
Governments get away with slavery in their states by using “job” programs under the guise of teaching prisoners skills that they can go on and use to obtain jobs.
Yet, as PrisonPolicy.org points out “Most prison jobs teach incarcerated people very few skills relevant to the labor market they will rejoin upon release, so the wages they earn may be the only payoff they see. These perpetually low wages are especially frustrating when we consider the increasing expenses incarcerated people face, both inside and after release. Of course, raising wages is a tough sell politically, but policymakers and the public must acknowledge that almost everyone in prison will eventually be released. Their success and independence depends largely on financial stability, which is undermined by low wages, nickel-and-diming through “user fees,” mandatory deductions, and work that does little to prepare them for work outside of prisons.”
One user on Instagram recently shared a list of products sold by companies that use prison labor.
For many on social media, the post shared by @blackdragonbreakfastclub was pretty surprising. Especially considering that many of the brands included on the list are commonplace buys. If you’ve never bought products from Tylenol, Ocean Spray, Band-Aid, or Tampax, seriously, color us shocked. The amount of money these companies save because of prison labor is immensely eye-opening and terrible as well considering how much prisoners lose out on when it comes to setting their lives up for when they finally do get out of those walls.
So it’s not just our police that needs reform, it’s our entire criminal justice system. We need policymakers who will push for the rights of prisoners and ensure that they are earning wages while working in prison and receiving relevant job training that will help them to return to their lives and be productive citizens of our society.
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