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Voters In 3 States Drop Provisions Allowing Forced Labor In Prisons

Voters in Alabama, Tennessee and Vermont revised language in their constitutions that allow forced labor in the criminal justice system. A measure to ban slavery as a punishment for those convicted of a crime was leading in Oregon, the Hill reports. Louisiana voters rejected a ballot measure to ban involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime, with about sixty percent voting against it. The approved measures will not immediately change the states’ prison systems, but they could lead to legal challenges about prisoners being forced to work or facing sanctions or loss of certain privileges if they don’t. 


The 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery following the Civil War, but it allowed involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime. Several state constitutions have similar text, leading advocates to push against those provisions and some to back updating the federal Constitution to amend the language of the 13th Amendment.  Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA) reintroduced legislation last year to remove the slavery section and send it to the states. More than a dozen states still have language in their constitutions permitting slavery as a punishment for crime, while other state constitutions do not address the issue at all. The Alabama referendum that voters passed removes language from the Jim Crow era regarding topics like segregated schools, poll taxes and bans on interracial marriage.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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