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Proposed ‘Abolition Amendment’ would close a major 13th Amendment loophole

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This story was originally published at Prism.

While the 13th Amendment abolished chattel slavery, an often ignored clause still allows for slavery and involuntary servitude as “punishment for a crime.” This “slavery clause” is now the target of #EndTheException, a new campaign launched this year on Juneteenth weekend. #EndTheException is pushing for the passage of the Abolition Amendment, a joint resolution cosponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Nikema Williams, which would strike the slavery clause from the 13th Amendment making it so that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude may be imposed as a punishment for a crime.”

On Saturday, June 19, as communities across the country celebrated Juneteenth—a holiday long celebrated by Black Americans, particularly Black Texans—Merkley and Williams joined advocates from groups including WorthRises, LatinoJustice PRLDF, JustLeadershipUSA, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition for an online discussion about the #EndTheException campaign, and to explain how the promise of freedom has yet to be fulfilled.

The average incarcerated worker earns 86 cents per hour, and in five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas—laborers inside earn nothing. Jorge Renaud, the national criminal justice director for LatinoJustice PRLDF, was incarcerated in Texas for 27 years. For 13 years, he experienced not just the painful labor of fieldwork—chopping trees and picking cotton, sorghum, and corn—but also retaliation when refusing to work.

“[It was] two years into my last sentence—I had a 60-year sentence,” Renaud said, “I thought I was going to die in prison and I drew a line. I said, ‘There are some things I’m not going to do for you all. I don’t care what you do to me.’ So I’m working out in the fields and I threw my aggy [grubbing hoe] up in the air and I was lucky they didn’t shoot me. They said, ‘You’re not going to work?’ and I said, ‘I’m not going out in the fields for y’all,’ and they put me in solitary for a couple of years.”

Renaud spoke of how prisons........

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