Ahead of Constitution Day this year, Georgian Congresswoman Nikema Williams used Constitution Day to call for the immediate adoption of the abolition amendment.
The amendment is legislation introduced by Williams that would close the “slavery loophole” in the constitution, she says.
Scholars, activists, and prisoners have likened the exception to the rise of a prison system that incarcerates blacks at a significantly higher rate than whites. In addition, they claim that the system benefits from unpaid or underpaid labor. According to the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, the estimated annual minimum value of the incarcerated labor force from US prisons and prisons is $2 billion.
“The Associated Press, which first reported the news of Congress’ move to amend the 13th Amendment, notes that dependence on prison labor is widely touted as a way to rehabilitate inmates and provide them with an environment in which to… can learn new manual skills.”
A sister bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley. Here’s what he said about it:
After ratifying the 13th Amendment, including the slavery clause, in 1865, Southern jurisdictions arrested black Americans in large numbers for petty crimes such as loitering or vagrancy, which were codified into new “Black Codes” that applied only to black Americans. The slavery clause was then used by sheriffs to hire out imprisoned individuals to work landowners’ fields, which in some cases could have included the very same plantations on which the prisoners had previously been enslaved. The practice grew in prevalence and scope until, by 1898, 73% of Alabama’s state revenue came from renting out the forced labor to black Americans.
The Slavery Clause continued to incentivize minor crime convictions throughout the Jim Crow era and fueled excessive incarceration of Black Americans and forced labor on notorious prison plantations such as Parchman, Mississippi, and Angola, Louisiana. The distortion of our criminal justice system into a system with embedded discrimination that fuels mass incarceration has continued through elements of the war on drugs, the proliferation of the three strike laws, strict plea deals and strict mandatory minimum policies – with lasting devastating effects on communities of color.
Today’s mass incarceration policies have fueled an $80 billion incarceration industry and an American incarceration rate that is near crisis, with 2.3 million prisoners – 20% of the world’s incarcerated population – residing in the United States. America currently has 1,833 state and 110 federal prisons, in addition to 1,772 juvenile facilities, 3,134 prisons, and 218 immigration detention centers. There are 80 tribal prisons.
“Constitution Day, commemorates 235 years since the signing of the Constitution. That’s 235 years too many with slavery as the law of the country. We shouldn’t wait another day to abolish slavery. Passing the abolition bill I introduced will end slavery once and for all. Passing the Abolition Amendment now will bring the Constitution closer to its goal of liberty for all as we continue to form a more perfect Union.”
A bipartisan group of 172 members of the House of Representatives co-sponsored the Abolition Amendment.
Under Article V of the Constitution, the document can only be amended after a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate approve a resolution or by a constitutional convention in which two-thirds of the state legislatures vote in support of the measure.
None of the changes made to the Constitution so far have been made through a Constitutional Convention.