The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, right?
Although it appears this way, the U.S. legal system has created an overlooked loophole for involuntary servitude via a lack of humane options for prisoners.
A 2016 report by the University of California Irvine states that while black Americans only made up 12 percent of the general population, they also made up 47 percent of 1,900 exonerations, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
Also, a whopping 33 percent of the federal prison population in 2016 was black Americans, according to pewresearch.org. White Americans made up 64 percent of the general population, but only 30 percent of the prison population.
Gaps as large as these raise a couple of questions.
How many wrongly convicted black Americans have yet to see freedom in 2019?
Why is the general population of black Americans so much lower than the prison population of black Americans?
These disparities, coupled with 1995’s Prison Industries Act, exploit a largely black American prison population by only providing near-slave labor wages for the same work we do in general society.
You may be wondering, but how is this comparable to slavery? Who is funding this? Who is profiting?
Many large American companies and corporations fund ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a legislative council of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives. ALEC’s state legislators lobbied and succeeded in getting the Prison Industries Act passed in 1995 in order to exacerbate and maximize inmate labor.
Slavery was an economic institution which kept a large part of the American economy functioning for the benefit of the white and wealthy; we have continued to maintain a modern equivalent through the U.S. prison system, ALEC, and these companies and corporations all working together to take huge advantage of black Americans.
Inmates ought to give back to the society they have committed crimes against, but these prisoners are not doing work that gives back to society; they are doing work that generates revenue for these private companies and corporations through ALEC’s policies, according to an article in The Nation published in 2011.
Today’s black prisoners are not being bought and sold as black people were in 1840 or 1850. But they are being exploited for cheap and prolonged labor through the U.S. prison system and ALEC working together to exploit them.
The situation for American prisoners is so dire that, in 2018, inmates in California, Washington and 15 other states engaged in sit-downs and hunger strikes to protest “what they consider ‘modern-day slavery,’” according to Alexia Fernandez Campbell in a story published on vox.com.
“Most inmates across the country do skilled and unskilled labor typically for less than a dollar per hour. (In some states, it’s entirely unpaid.) The work ranges from building office furniture to answering customer service calls to video production and farm work – sometimes without the guarantee of safe work conditions,” she wrote.
According to sourcewatch.org, there are more than 100 major U.S. companies, which provide everything from whiskey to insurance to cable access to clothes to cosmetics that are currently involved with ALEC.
So the next time you are getting gas; picking a cable, energy or insurance company; having packages delivered; buying clothes; drinking whiskey; reading the news; or just looking for a good place to eat, consider where your money is going and what it is funding behind the veil.
For an extended list of companies that are involved with ALEC, visit https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Corporations
For further reading on wrongful convictions, visit https://research.msu.edu/innocent-african-americans-more-likely-to-be-wrongfully-convicted/
For a timeline of ongoing slavery in the U.S., you can also watch Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which is available on Netflix.