Centuries ago, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery – with a few loopholes. The Constitution made it so enslavement could still be legal through incarceration. But there was another hidden loophole to THAT loophole that’s still being abused today.
The 13th Amendment allowed slavery for people imprisoned – specifically after due process. So, Southern officials wondered, “How do you convict, incarcerate, and exploit more Black people without a fair trial?”
Their answer was the “plea bargain,” where a prosecutor can offer you less time behind bars in exchange for you admitting guilt – whether you did it or not!
Another incentive to pleading “guilty” was financial; following through with a trial was expensive for Black defendants. Plea bargaining ensured that more Black people could be trapped behind bars, so states made huge financial gains off of Black imprisoned field laborers, too.
Today, over 97% of federal felony convictions and 94% state convictions are made because of plea bargaining. Only 2% of federal prosecutions actually end up going to trial!
There’s no such thing as honesty or fairness in this criminal legal system, especially not for Black people. The system incentivizes us NOT to tell the truth but to choose between “less” and “more” prison – instead of no prison time at all. History backs us up when we ask, “What kind of freedom is that?”