Slavery did not end with the 13th amendment.
Instead, it was moved into prisons.
Slavery still exists in the US and Colorado.
The 13th Amendment, section 1, reads: "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." The 'except' clause meant that plantations never had to give up slavery. Angela Davis describes what happened next:
"In the south after slavery was abolished, plantation owners were left bereft of their free labour. So the governments of former slave states found ways to criminalize being Black, they called these the Black Codes. Free Black people were arrested for actions such as vagrancy, absence from work, breach of job contracts, the possession of firearms, and insulting gestures or acts. Note that all of these things were only criminalized when the person was black. Because the 13th amendment abolished slavery except as a punishment for a crime, the Black Codes allowed slave states to regain their slave labour in the form of chain gangs. The new so-called criminal justice system made Black people the prime targets of a developing convict lease system.”
- Angela Davis, from 'Are Prisons Obsolete'
photo: Library of Congress
With time, the elites realized that they could enslave anyone: Black people, Indigenous people, Brown people, queer people, poor people. Criminalization of all sorts of harmless behavior proliferated, so that slavery could continue to thrive and expand.
The Situation Today:
The United States imprisons more people than any other nation on earth: about 1 out of every 100 working-age Americans are currently incarcerated. Obscene profits are being made by public and private companies by exploiting prison labour and caging human beings.
The drug war, combined with a superabundance of laws which criminalize harmless behavior has led to the US having the largest prison population in the world. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population while it holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, and that’s *excluding* people under correctional supervision – probation, parole, ankle monitors, and house arrest.
According to Ruth Wilson Gilmore, approximately 33% of the prison population are African American, 23% are Latino, and whites make up 30%.
The priorities of the government are completely upside down. In California, 23 prisons were built between 1982 and 2000, while only 1 university was built. The National Employment Law Project estimates that about 70 million people have some form of arrest and/or conviction. Criminalizing communities who lack access to basic resources will not solve the problem of poverty, underemployment, and unemployment.
The land of the free puts more people in cages than repressive dictatorships.
You might think that caging so many people might make the US safer, by 'getting bad guys off the streets'. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true.
According to Berkeley researchers Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins "Rates of common property crimes in the United States are comparable to those reported in many other Western industrial nations, but rates of lethal violence in the United States are much higher”. Depending who you compare to, violent death happens 10 to 20 times more often in the US than elsewhere.
So, it’s important to ask ourselves why this country puts so many people in cages when it does not put an end to violent crime. If putting people in cages doesn’t work, why do we do it?
The answer is clear: profit and social control. It's time to put a real end to the practice of slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. This will be a key step in ending the horrific injustice of mass incarceration.
Colorado's use of prison slavery
Despite becoming the first state to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude via state constitutional amendment in 2018, the reality in our prisons is not reflecting the will of people in Colorado.
Incarcerated people in Colorado are forced to work for pennies a day. Imprisoned people who work full-time jobs are paid between 84 cents and $2.45 per day.
We estimated that the stolen wages for one incarcerated victim, over his sentence of 30 years, amounts to 1.1 million dollars. This money wasn’t just stolen wages, it was his children’s medical expenses, diapers, tuition money, food….
Slavery and involuntary servitude is not only still happening in Colorado prisons today but it is still being enforced under the law. Currently, there are a number of laws and statutes which directly contradict the amended state constitution and which work to enforce prison slavery and involuntary servitude. For example, imprisoned people are forced to work: current Colorado law states that imprisoned people who refuse to work will be punished (see section Section 17-20-114.5).
Our objective is to move forward legislation to amend and remove statutes that are in direct conflict with the 2018 amendment to Article II, Section 26 of the Colorado Constitution.
Slavery in all forms is wrong. No slavery. No Exceptions!