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Is Slavery Good Or Bad? Five States To Vote This November.
Involuntary servitude is still legal for convicts in nearly 20 states.
This election is going to teach us a lot about who it is, exactly, that we are sharing a country with. Will people vote for control over their reproductive futures ... or will they vote for Republicans. Will people vote for people who will do things that will actually reduce crime and inflation ... or will they vote for Republicans?
Another thing we are set to find out? Whether or not they think slavery is a great idea! Five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont — are set to vote on whether or not involuntary servitude is allowed as punishment for a crime. Right now, there are nearly 20 states that allow this; hopefully there will be fewer by November.
The 13th Amendment banned slavery in the United States, but with one major exception: convict labor. The Constitution still allows for involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime. Thus, after slavery was officially outlawed, many Southern states came up with ridiculous reasons to throw Black people in prison and then put them into convict lease programs, essentially re-enslaving them years after slavery was meant to be abolished. Alabama was the last state to get rid of their official convict lease program in 1928, though it obviously continued in less official ways for many years afterwards.
The Associated Press reports:
The proposed language going before Tennessean voters more clearly distinguishes between the two: “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.”
“We understand that those who are incarcerated cannot be forced to work without pay, but we should not create a situation where they won’t be able to work at all,” [Memphis Democrat Sen. Raumesh] Akbari said. [...]
Alabama is asking voters to delete all racist language from its constitution and to remove and replace a section on convict labor that’s similar to what Tennessee has had in its constitution.
Vermont often boasts of being the first state in the nation to ban slavery in 1777, but its constitution still allows involuntary servitude in a handful of circumstances. Its proposed change would replace the current exception clause with language saying “slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited in this State.”
Oregon’s proposed change repeals its exception clause while adding language allowing a court or probation or parole agency to order alternatives to incarceration as part of sentencing.
Unfortunately, in Louisiana's case, advocates are concerned the language used in the amendment that is meant to end involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment — “Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, (but this) does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice” — could not only permit that but permit slavery as well. The nonprofit group Council for a Better Louisiana is urging voters to vote "no" on it in hopes of later voting on an amendment with language more like Tennessee's bill.
Such an amendment would be a particularly big deal in Alabama, which is one of the seven states where the vast majority of prison labor is unpaid (the others being Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas). If there were to be a better worded amendment, it would also be a huge deal in Louisiana, home of Angola prison, which is basically a modern day slave plantation.
Many states rely on convict labor in order to function — California and Arizona in particular. Even the administration of California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is supposed to be so fabulously liberal, was opposed to eliminating indentured servitude as punishment for a crime. California's Democratic legislature voted against banning it on the grounds that it could require the state to pay convicts minimum wage for their labor, which would cost billions.
This means, essentially, that these states have an actual economic interest in people committing crimes. If people were to stop committing crimes entirely, they would be screwed, because they would then have to pay people minimum wage — at least! — to do the work that prisoners are doing. That seems bad.
We have the highest prison population in the world — 2.1 million, which is 25 percent of the world's total prison population. We have the world's highest incarceration rate, beating out Rwanda, Turkmenistan, El Salvador and Cuba for the honor. We also have one of the highest recidivism rates in the world, with nearly 44 percent of convicts reoffending within the first year out of prison.
Perhaps if it cost us more money to keep people behind bars, we might be a tad more judicious with who we put there and for how long. We might care more about rehabilitation. We might prefer that if inmates are going to work, that they learn skills that will help them find work once they are on the outside so that it is less likely they will reoffend. We might do things in a more sensible and thoughtful way.
Sadly, these amendments will not do any of that. They will still allow for prisoners to be paid pennies an hour for work that will not provide any kind of training for work they might do once they are on the outside. But they are a step in the right direction, as it certainly seems fair to say that "not slavery" is preferable over "slavery."
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