The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution and Slavery and Imprisonment

The 13th Amendment says:

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“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

In my personal position, the 13th Amendment is good as it is. The context and spirit of the Amendment is clear though the text is broad for brevity sake.  As the scripture says  the letter kills but the spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Perhaps, the 13th Amendment could be modified to give greater clarity with respect to prohibiting the American form of slavery and the definition of and limits of general involuntary servitude with respect to imprisonment or otherwise.  Nevertheless, the 13th Amendment certainly does not need to be abolished.  To abolish means to get rid of.  To get rid of the 13th Amendment constitutionally authorizes the kind of slavery that existed in America prior to the 13th Amendment.  Moreover, one should realize that the imprisonment clause applies to people of all races not just Blacks.

Article 1 Section 2 of the US Constitution requires slaves to be counted as 3/5 of a person for voting representation purposes.    An amendment does not erase a thing but it does change it where change involves addition, deletion and/or modification.  The 13th Amendment did not physically erase the 3/5 provision from the constitution.  However, it does render the 3/5 provision powerless and no longer applicable to blacks in America.   Thus, abolishing the 13th Amendment would empower this 3/5 provision once again.

Article 1 Section 9 of the US Constitution as implemented as an act of Congress on March 2, 1807 prohibited the importation of slaves starting in 1808.  Yet the Act did not prohibit unrestrained slavery as implemented in America in its early years.  My article entitled The Founders, the Constitution, the Delayed Civil War discusses the effect of Article 1 Section 9.

One should realize that imprisonment is a type of involuntary servitude and involuntary servitude is a type of enslavement. Indeed, voluntary servitude is a type of enslavement as the words slave, enslavement, and slavery have a very broad meaning.  This is reason in the Bible, the scriptures speak of children of God as being slaves to God though that enslavement be voluntary at least to some degree.

In the 13th Amendment the clause speaking of imprisonment in my view preserves with question the right of the government to imprison, enslave, or in other words cause involuntary servitude.  Without that clause it is certain that someone would raise the claim that the 13th Amendment explicitly removed the implicit right of the government to arrest and imprison violators of the law.  I could envision where prisoners of war would even raise that claim.

In November 2018 the Colorado voters approved a measure (Amendment A) requiring its State Constitution to be amended to remove the reference to imprisonment as  the exception to slavery and involuntary servitude.  I suppose this means they already do or will exclude imprisonment from the definition of involuntary servitude for at least legal purposes. 

Note that  the Colorado amendment says :

… WHEREAS, Because work provides myriad individual and collective benefits, the purpose of this proposed constitutional amendment is not to withdraw legitimate opportunities to work for individuals who have been convicted of a crime, but instead to merely prohibit compulsory labor from such individuals;…

The text of the Colorado Amendment may be found here.

Ballotpedia  information on the  Colorado 2018 ballot initiative may be found here.  Also Ballotpedia information for a similar but failed 2016 Colorado ballot initiative may be found here.

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One of the real or perceived problems is what prisoners are paid for the work they do.   The Prison Policy Initiative organization provides some statistics here on wages paid to prisoners.   The  purpose of prisons is the fundamental question that needs to be clarified.  Ending the privatization of prisons would probably also be good as any work done would not be a profit to private companies/individuals but rather to the benefit of the nation as a whole.

Reference:
Slave-Codes, Slavery Abolishment, Reconstruction, Black-Codes, Jim Crow Laws, Constitution Amendments

For a LA Times opinion piece on prison labor click here.

 

 






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