5 states to vote on banning slavery that is still legal in some US prisons

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5 states to vote on banning slavery that is still legal in some US prisons
A fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala., June 18, 2015AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File

  • Slavery is still legal in the US if it is used as a form of punishment in some prisons.
  • Voters in Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, and Vermont will be voting on changing this legislation.

Voters in the November midterms in five states will be balloted on outlawing slavery, more than 150 years after it was abolished after the Civil War.

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The landmark 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified on December 6, 1865, officially abolished slavery but allowed it to continue as a punishment in prisons against convicted felons.

Nearly 20 states have constitutions that include language permitting slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments, and voters in Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, and Vermont will be asked to change the loophole as part of a national push for prison reform, AP reports.

For states in the former Confederacy, the loophole was a tool to maintain the dynamics of slavery, post-abolition, said AP.

More than 80,000 inmates perform prison labor in the US, with the average wage for inmates working for the state prison industry being just 52 cents per hour, according to the ACLU, which says that prisoners produced roughly $2 billion worth of goods and services in 2021.

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But in some states, including Alabama, inmates get paid nothing for their work.

Prisoners in Alabama recently went on strike to protest cruel labor conditions. Swift Justice, an inmate at the Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore, a small town bordering Florida, told Insider's Taiyler Simone Mitchell, "I'm just a slave. I'm inside the prison system."

5 states to vote on banning slavery that is still legal in some US prisons
Convicts at the Limestone Correctional facility are placed back onto the chain gang when they leave the prison grounds for their daily labor as road crews in July of 1995 outside of Huntsville, Alabama. The state of Alabama brought back the chain gang to demonstrate to the media and the public that they were tough on crime, even though it is an impractical relic of the past for prison work crewsAndrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Raumesh Akbari, a member of the Tennessee Senate, told AP that she was shocked to find out that slavery was legal as a form of punishment.

"When I found out that this exception existed, I thought, 'We have got to fix this and we've got to fix this right away.' Our constitution should reflect the values and the beliefs of our state," she said.

Talking to the Washington Post, Robert Chase, an associate professor at Stony Brook University and the director of Historians Against Slavery said the amendment that freed the slaves has a clause to re-enslave them.

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"For an entire generation, it put Black men and women back into slavery by incarcerating them and selling their labor to private corporations," said Chase.

Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth Rises, a criminal justice group working to remove the loophole, told the Post that "The idea that you could ever finish the sentence 'slavery's okay when ... ' has to rip out your soul, and I think it's what makes this a fight that ignores political lines and brings us together."

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