“All persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “are, and hereafter will be, free.”
Thus, US President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
However, and 159 years later, there is still an exception. Slavery remains legal as punishment for a crime for convicted prisoners.
In the last midterm elections in the United States, five states voted to eliminate forced labor in prisons.
Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont decided on November 8 to remove exemptions allowing slavery or involuntary servitude from state constitutions in an effort to outlaw slavery altogether.
The result could allow prisoners to file lawsuits against forced labor in the criminal justice system, experts say.
But a fifth state decided to keep forced labor in prisons legal: Louisiana.
We review this particular situation on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery that is celebrated on December 2.
Prison labor is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States.
Some 800,000 prisoners currently work in the United States for pennies or nothing, according to figures cited by experts.
Seven states do not pay prison workers any wages for most work assignments and prisoners can be punished if they refuse to work, according to an article by BBC Washington journalist Max Matza.
Louisiana in particular has one of the most notorious prison labor systems in the country.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary is the only high-security prison for men in the state and the largest in the US.
It occupies a little more than 72 square kilometers, almost the size of the island of Manhattan, in New York.
It is known as “La Alcatraz del Sur” and as “Angola”, after the African country where many of the slaves who worked on the cotton plantation that existed in that same place at the end of the 19th century came from (some historians maintain that this This is wrong because the international slave trade was banned in 1807, so it is unlikely that the plantation workers would have been born in Africa decades later).
More than 5,000 men are detained in this prison, a large percentage of them are black.
Among the wide variety of jobs, the prisoners still farm and harvest cotton.
“If the workers refuse to work, they are punished. Well-educated laborers work in the foremen’s houses, cooking and cleaning. They sleep in small dormitories and are paid from 2 to 20 cents an hour, which they can only spend on the spot. “, describes the newspaper The Washington Post.
Why did Louisiana reject the change?
Louisiana voted to keep the slavery exception on the midterm ballot after the lawmaker who had pushed the ballot initiative backed down.
Edmond Jordan, a Democratic state representative from the city of Baton Rouge, said he withdrew his initial support for the measure after a closer reading of the proposed law led him to believe it might actually have expanded protections for slavery.
Currently, the law establishes that “slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except in the latter case as punishment for a crime.”
The new proposal suggested removing the phrase: “except in the latter case as punishment for a crime.”
But the alternative wording was confusing.
Both slavery and involuntary servitude could be interpreted as being permitted in certain circumstances despite the fact that slavery is explicitly prohibited in the current constitution.
In an interview with the BBC after the November 8 election, Jordan said he withdrew his support because he wanted “no harm” and that upholding the law would not make the current situation worse.
He said he plans to review the bill and campaign for it to pass in 2023.
Asked if he was concerned that the proposed law could have allowed slavery to continue, the lawmaker cited the Supreme Court’s decision in June to invalidate the nation’s right to abortion after 40 years as established law.
“If you had asked me that question a year ago, I would have told you that the probability of it being a threat would be almost zero, because it is prohibited at the federal level,” he said.
“But after Roe v Wade — the reversal of things that we once thought were well established laws — I don’t want to take a chance on something that we think is well settled.”
Proponents of the change in the law say it is necessary to prevent prisoner abuse.
And they hope to remove the same exemption from the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which abolished slavery but maintained a loophole.
Curtis Davis III, a former Louisiana prisoner who was pardoned after 25 years when his murder case was reinvestigated, said he believes there was a “political stunt” behind the scenes in the last election.
His suspicions about the withdrawal of support for the measure are due to the fact that the state is one of the few that still sentences prisoners to “forced labor.”
For Davis, some legislators are concerned that the new language in the bill could potentially invalidate court sentences handed down to thousands of prisoners in Louisiana.
Jordan denied that the forced labor contributed to his decision.
Despite Louisiana’s pushback, Davis said he’s not disappointed that his state hasn’t changed the law.
According to him, the main goal is to change the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which supersedes state constitutions.
Changing Amendment 13 would require a two-thirds majority of both houses of the US Congress, or by a constitutional convention in which two-thirds of state legislatures vote to support the change.
There are still more than a dozen states that include language allowing slavery and involuntary servitude for prisoners, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Several other states do not even mention slavery or forced prison labor in their laws.
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BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-63830557, IMPORTING DATE: 2022-12-02 15:50:05