Want to know more? Here we give a brief understanding of how we got to where we are today. There is often misunderstanding concerning what we are trying to do, why it is so important, and the impact it can have. We have also put together a collection of several valuable resources for further education.
Slavery in 2023
Many think of slavery as a thing of the past, but unfortunately, it is an ongoing phenomenon used everyday in every state of our country. In 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, an exception clause was created, making slavery, or owning or exploiting another human being for profit, illegal, EXCEPT FOR as punishment for a crime.
Still today, this legal exception continues to provide forced labor at little to no pay, and is lining the pockets of the those who exploit and profit from the mass incarceration of our nation.
More than 150 years later, people are forced to work under the threat of further punishment, such as loss of family visits or phone calls, solitary confinement, and lengthened sentences due to the removal of "good time". Prison worker wages in the state of Virginia range from $0.27 to $0.45 per hour (for non-industry labor) and $0.55 to $0.80 per hour (for working in state-owned correctional industries). This pay rate has been the same for DECADES. In 7 other states, they are paid literally nothing for their work.
Prisons deduct as much as 80 percent from incarcerated people’s paychecks for court-imposed fines, taxes, family support, restitution, and room and board, among other fees.
Meanwhile, goods that most would consider necessities — deodorant, shampoo, shoes, thermal clothes for winter — are often only available to people who can afford them, and at rates much higher than average market value.
But earning enough to afford these necessities from a prison job is nearly impossible: The average prison wage maxes out at 52 cents per hour, according to a new ACLU analysis, and many people make pennies per hour. That means that basics, like a $3 tube of toothpaste, can take days of work to afford.
Dangerous and Degrading Conditions
Not only is prison labor often compulsory, arbitrary, and discriminatory, it can be dangerous and degrading—and sometimes deadly—as well. Incarcerated people can be made to work in hazardous conditions which would be closely regulated by federal workplace health and safety regulations if the work were performed outside of the prison context. But because of their status as "criminals," they are stripped of even the most basic human rights, such as safe working conditions, with no system of outside regulation, and no system of outside redress to appeal to. Prison laborers work in these conditions, often without proper safety equipment or protective gear, and may be offered little to no training.
Additionally, this forced labor is often advertised under the guise of "work-force training," "job education programs," and "re-entry support" but offers few, if any, marketable skills or training that could be useful in obtaining gainful employment upon release.
Following the money
The pursuit of profit is inextricably intertwined with America’s system of carceral labor and criminal punishment. Along with the institution of slavery, the harnessing of involuntary carceral labor yielded enormous proceeds through transformation of human toil into financial gain. Profit incentives have exerted a profound influence on the shape of American carceral labor. From 16thcentury British convict transportation to 21st-century private corrections companies, profitable returns from involuntary carceral servitude have been an important feature of criminal punishment. Read more here.
Below you will find several valuable resources for learning more about the ties between past and present-day slavery, the problem of mass incarceration, and the current fight to abolish slavery in our nation.
"Does an Exception Clause in the 13th Amendment Still Permit Slavery?" details the slavery loophole.
"Loopholes have preserved slavery for more than 150 years after abolition"
"EMANCIPATION ON THE BALLOT: Why Slavery is Still Legal in America – And How Voters Can Take Action"
"The War Over the 13th Amendment and Modern Day Slavery"
"The 13th Amendment’s fatal flaw created modern-day convict slavery"
Hosted by Max Parthas and Yusuf Hassan, Abolition today is a weekly online radio program with specific focus on modern slavery as it is practiced through the 13th amendment of the US constitution and by private for-profit prisons worldwide. Airs live Sundays 7PM EST. 4PM PST