Ahead of Constitution Day, Georgia Congresswoman Nikema Williams used Constitution Day this year to call for the immediate passage of the Abolition Amendment.
The amendment is legislation Williams introduced 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 black people at a rate considerably higher than that of white people. Further, they claim the system profits off of unpaid or underpaid labor. The minimum estimated annual value of incarcerated labor from U.S. prisons and jails is $2 billion, according to the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.
“The Associated Press, which first reported the news of the congressional push to alter the 13th Amendment, notes that the reliance on prison labor is a generally touted as a way to rehabilitate inmates and provide an environment for teaching them new trade skills.“
A sister bill was filed in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley. Here’s what he said about it:
Following the ratification of the 13th Amendment, including the Slavery Clause, in 1865, Southern jurisdictions arrested Black Americans in large numbers for minor crimes, like loitering or vagrancy, codified in new ‘Black Codes,’ which were only applied to Black Americans. The Slavery Clause was then used by sheriffs to lease out imprisoned individuals to work landowners’ fields, which in some cases could have included the very same plantations where the prisoners had previously been enslaved. The practice grew in prevalence and scope to the point that, by 1898, 73% of Alabama’s state revenue came from renting out the forced labor of Black Americans.
The Slavery Clause continued to incentivize minor crime convictions and drive the over-incarceration of Black Americans throughout the Jim Crow era and forced labor on infamous prison plantations like Parchman in Mississippi and Angola in Louisiana. The corruption of our criminal justice into a system with embedded discrimination fueling mass incarceration has continued through elements of the War on Drugs, the proliferation of the three strike laws, severe plea deals, and harsh mandatory minimum policies—with continued devastating effects on communities of color.
Today’s mass incarceration policies have driven an $80 billion detention industry and a rate of American incarceration that is nothing short of a crisis, with 2.3 million prisoners—20% of the world’s incarcerated population—residing in the United States. America currently contains 1,833 state and 110 federal prisons, in addition to 1,772 juvenile facilities, 3,134 jails, and 218 immigration detention facilities. There are 80 Tribal jails.
“Constitution Day, commemorates 235 years since the Constitution was signed. That’s 235 years too many with slavery as the law of the land. We shouldn’t wait one day longer to abolish slavery. Passing the Abolition Amendment, which I introduced, will end slavery once and for all. Passing the Abolition Amendment now will bring the Constitution closer to its goal of freedom for all as we continue to form a more perfect union.”
A bipartisan group of 172 members of the House of Representatives have co-sponsored the Abolition Amendment.
Per Article V of the Constitution, the document can be changed only after a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate approve a resolution or by a constitutional convention in which two-thirds of state legislatures vote to support the measure.
None of the amendments made to the Constitution to date have been made via constitutional convention.