After over 150 years since the abolition of slavery, the topic will once again be on the ballot in five different states. This is following a new abolitionist movement that is looking to restructure and change the shape of prison labor. Slavery will be on the ballot after over 150 years of it being officially outlawed in the United States.
Voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont will get to vote on amendments that prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude. So far, the existing constitutions do not apply to incarcerated people, but advocates of these amendments say that all sorts of involuntary servitude must be removed from the criminal justice system, including from prisons.
Since 2018, similar ballots have been approved in Colorado, Nebraska, and Utah.
Curtis Ray Davis II, who has served 25 years for second-degree murder in the Louisiana State Penitentiary has noted that this is a necessary move to change people’s experience during incarceration.
In an interview, he also said, that many would think it impossible for the amendment to get on the ballot in Louisiana, but that America should not allow any form of legalized slavery.
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, abolished all slavery and involuntary servitude but allowed for an exception caveat where those convicted of a crime could still be an exception to this rule. This led to many follow-up laws in the 19th century, as the South had become known for incidents where black people would be incarcerated and forced to work.
Max Parathas, co-director of state operations of the Abolish Slavery National Network and co-host of a weekly online radio program, Abolition Today, noted in an interview that they are looking to eliminate the language that could be used against those convicted. Parathas are also calling for the exception clause to be entirely removed from the 13th amendment. This is a move she hopes will gain further momentum as more and more states are amending their constitutions.
Currently, around 20 states have exception clauses that allow those imprisoned to be the victims of slavery or involuntary servitude. Vermont, which was first state to ban slavery in 1777, still allows involuntary servitude in cases where a debt, fine or other damage needs to be paid.