Activists want inmates to be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
Congresswoman Nikema Williams wrote in a Juneteenth post on her Twitter account that she wants to change the 13th Amendment of the U.S Constitution.
But #Juneteenth also reminds us that slavery HAS NOT been fully abolished in this country. In reality, the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery EXCEPT as punishment for a crime. - And that's why we need the Abolition Amendment. - Nikema Williams
The 13th Amendment
The 13th Amendment which was ratified in 1865 states, “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”.
Congresswoman Williams wrote that there is growing bipartisan and multiracial support for eliminating the exception in the 13th Amendment.
A recent research report titled Captive Labor: Exploitation of Incarcerated Workers published by the ACLU calls for reforms to make prison labor voluntary and for those who choose to work, that inmate workers are paid fairly, properly trained, and able to gain transferable skills.
The roots of modern prison labor can be found in the ratification of this exception clause at the end of the Civil War, which disproportionately encouraged the criminalization and effective re-enslavement of Black people during the Jim Crow era, with impacts that persist to this day. -ACLU
It is rare that language or amendments in the Constitution are repealed. An existing constitutional amendment can be repealed but only by the ratification of another amendment.
The Constitution’s Article V requires that an amendment be proposed by two-thirds of the House and Senate, or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. It is up to the states to approve a new amendment, with three-quarters of the states voting to ratifying it. (Source)
How much do US prisoners get paid?
Each prison system and state legislature determine how prison labor is regulated and paid. Typically, wages range from 14 cents to $2.00/hour for prison maintenance labor, depending on the state where the inmate is incarcerated. The national average hovers around 63 cents per hour for this type of labor. (Source)
How much does it cost to incarcerate a person in the US?
Based on FY 2020 data, the average annual COIF for a Federal inmate in a Federal facility in FY 2020 was $39,158 ($120.59 per day). The average annual COIF for a Federal inmate in a Residential Reentry Center for FY 2020 was $35,663 ($97.44 per day).Source
Is forced labor a form of modern day slavery?
The U.S has the largest prison population in the world at 2.2 million, and the second highest incarceration rate per capita.
Less than 10% of the prison population are in correctional industries that offer prison programs that produce goods and services for the market.
Some argue labor by prisoners helps to offset the costs of incarcerating them such as providing supervision, healthcare, dental, transportation, and also provides a method for criminals to pay back their debt to society.
Others see a direct line from the history of chattel slavery to modern day mass incarceration and view a forced labor model as being unethical and purely profit-driven.
Congresswoman Nikema Williams
I'm bold enough to think that I can change the Constitution, and I know that there's a national, bipartisan, multiracial movement to get it done. Let's #EndTheException in the 13th Amendment. -Nikema Williams
Congresswoman Nikema Williams represents Georgia's Fifth Congressional District.
According to her website, Williams currently sits on the Financial Services Committee, where she is Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Investigations & Oversight, and the Transportation and Infrastructure.
Congresswoman Williams is also a member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. She has membership in several caucuses including the Congressional Black Caucus, Democratic Women’s Caucus.