The 13th Amendment Gives Way To Modern Slavery In the Prison System

prisoners working in a field
Via picryl
Tremain Prioleau II
May 3, 2023

Ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. History paints its passage as the significant end of slavery in this country but an elusive loophole ensured Black people would continue to be caged in slavery for generations.

The key to the modern prison labor crisis is the exception listed in the 13th amendment. It bans slavery except as punishment for a crime. With this wording, the system has found a way to justify using prisoners as a convenient free or low-wage labor force. The economics behind this reveal why.

A report published by the American Civil Liberties Union in June 2022 found about 800,000 prisoners out of the 1.2 million in state and federal prisons are forced to work, generating $11 billion annually in goods and services.

In 2022, voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont approved measures to change their state’s constitutions to end involuntary servitude as a punishment. These voting results won't necessarily mean an end to the practice immediately, but the people made it clear they want slavery gone for good.

America continues to build on the backs of slave labor but now people are standing up. Groups like the Abolish Slavery National Network are fighting to abolish slavery in all forms. The time is now to fight for change.