As of the 2022 midterm election, four states voted to abolish slavery. But didn’t Abraham Lincoln abolish slavery like 150 years ago? Yes, well kind of. The enactment of the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution outlawed slavery, but with a very important loophole. As it is stated in the Constitution, “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.” Meaning that slavery is outlawed unless a person has been arrested and convicted of a crime. This leaves the United States criminal justice and correctional system exempt from profiting off of slave labor.
Many believe this loophole has facilitated the making of what is known as the era of mass incarceration we are living in today. This consists of the process of arresting, trying, and convicting an unprecedented and unnecessary amount of individuals in order to fuel a system that profits from inmate labor and incarceration. Unfortunately, this loophole in the 13th amendment is not what states voted to overturn this midterm election. Ballots in five states included a question asking voters if they agreed with amending their individual state constitutions by removing a legal exception that permits slavery and involuntary servitude as a form of punishment for a crime. Four out of five of these states voted to make the change to their constitutions, resulting in the abolishment of slavery in those states. The states that voted for this abolishment consisted of Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont. The only state to reject this change was Louisiana.
So why would a state reject the idea of abolishing slavery? Well, apparently the proposed fix to Louisiana’s Amendment 7 that was supposed to change the loophole might have actually made the problem worse. Louisiana Democratic Representative Edmond Jordan, who originally proposed the change to legislators, argues that during the legislative process the language of the amendment was watered down and would have still permitted forced labor in an individual’s criminal sentence.
As of today, 19 states still hold language in their constitutions that allows slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. This needs to change. It is only through this change of language in all state constitutions, as well as, the federal constitution that slavery will ever be fully abolished in this country. Need we be reminded that we are living in the year 2022, a time period that tries to display itself as an era of diversity, inclusion, and freedom. The language embedded in these amendments is far from the embodiment of inclusion and freedom. As of November 8th of this year we are four states closer to finally bringing slavery in this so called, home of the free, to an end. We must continue to work, raise awareness, and educate ourselves until we can proudly say that this country has done everything in its power to overturn the wrongs of its past. We should not rest until every person is free from the constraints of forced labor.