In this year’s midterm elections in November, voters in five states will determine whether to fix a constitutional gap that allows slavery to be punished as a crime.
The 13th Amendment, passed in 1865, outlawed forced labor in most cases, with the exception of those who are carrying out criminal penalties.
For advocates of mass imprisonment and prison reform, the “loophole” involving slavery has been a key issue.
Voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and other states will decide whether to shut that loophole on Election Day, November 8.
When slavery was prohibited in Vermont in 1777, it became the first state to do so. However, the state constitution makes an exemption for those who are “bound by law for the payment of obligations, damages, penalties, fees, or the like.”
One of 20 states with such provisions is this one.
Similar ballot initiatives were approved in 2018 in Colorado, Utah, and Nebraska. Additionally, similar elections are being prepared for in New Jersey, California, Texas, Florida, and Ohio, among other states.
When it was included in the state constitution of Rhode Island in 1842, it became the first state to outlaw forced labor as a form of punishment for crimes.
The jail loophole in those states may be closed as a result of each of the five proposals on the November ballot.
However, the verdict would be less certain in Louisiana.
According to its ballot proposal, “involuntary servitude shall not be used, save in the otherwise authorized administration of criminal justice.”
Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a Republican from Louisiana, told PEW Research that he thought the bill ‘legally authorizes slavery’ and would have minimal effect on state law.
“It’s really simply symbolic,” you say. It states what is already written in the laws, but maybe to a greater extent,’ Seabaugh told the media site.
However, Alabamans will take it a step further and decide whether to strike “all discriminatory wording” from their state constitution in a separate ballot.
A significant win for the current civil rights movement would be eliminating the jail exception to the 13th Amendment.
Democrats Nikema Williams of Georgia and Jeff Merkley of Oregon presented a constitutional proposal last year that would have made jailed slave labor illegal on a national basis.
The period was then, according to Merkley, “the gap in our constitution’s prohibition on slavery not only permitted slavery to persist, but also inaugurated an age of prejudice and mass imprisonment that continues to this day.”
Approximately 800,000 of the 1.2 million inmates housed in federal and state prisons are required to labor for as low as 50 cents an hour, and in certain jurisdictions, for nothing at all.
The information comes from an American Civil Liberties Union study dated June 2022.
According to the research, the industry of forced labor is estimated to be valued at least $11 billion.