Ugly legacy of slavery continues to stay brazenly in the US’ prisons
Published: Jul 27, 2022 11:14 PM
US human rights Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US human rights Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Forced labor, the ugly legacy of slavery, is still deeply ingrained in today's American society, and prisons remain the harshest places for forced labor.

We define slavery using the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines, which are based on the 1926 Slavery Convention. The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "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." Although it officially abolished slavery in 1865, it set into place a brand-new form of slavery, which was called convict leasing. 

Convict leasing is what is allowed through the 13th Amendment where if you incarcerate someone and they are subject to slavery through this exception clause, you can ask them to work or lease them out to companies. In California, Wyoming and Oregon where there are huge fires, they're using prison labor to fight it. And the inmates are only getting paid $1 a day to risk their lives on the frontline fighting these fires. In Louisiana and in Texas on our radio program, we had people from Texas where they were talking about how the inmates there are still picking cotton in the fields. They're still doing the produce in the fields out the hot sun. 

From the moment they enter the prison gates, incarcerated people lose their rights to refuse to work. There are policies in New Jersey, where if you either refuse to work or you incite others not to work, it is treated as a crime for refusing to work. 

If you refuse to work, they can put you in solitary environment. They can extend your term. So no matter how long you're going to be there, they could add more years onto it without a jury or a trial. There's a number of ways that they force you to labor. 

In the United States, private prisons have their roots in slavery. There are  158 for-profit private prisons in the US. Whilst President Joe Biden said he was going to end contracts with for-profit private prisons, what he said really wasn't the truth of what was occurring. It's very much the same thing to happen with Barack Obama. Back in 2016, the Obama administration said that it planned a gradual phase-out of private prisons by letting contracts expire or by scaling them back to a level consistent with recent declines in the U.S. prison population.  

And Biden did the same thing, but here's the problem. Many of those contracts are for 10, 20, 25 years, and they won't be up for renewal during his administration, which means the person who is the president at the time does not have to follow through with what Biden said he would do. So they're not very worried about losing their business at this point.

The situation with slavery in the US is disappointing. Having experienced it personally, my family's been decimated, my community has been destroyed, which will take us generations, if ever, to try and recovery, because the same circumstances continue to exist every single day. People of color, black people, the Natives, and Hispanic people, are suffering from crimes against humanity. Literally, they are shooting us in the streets, they are criminalizing our lives. They're hunting us like wild animals, and then they're putting us in these hell holes called prisons where you wouldn't put a dog in order to punish us and to take away all of our rights.

So it is really a terrible condition that the entire world should be paying attention to and digging into. America's not admitting to its own cons. Its allies are not going to admit to what America is doing, because they're doing the same thing too to their people and maybe others.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Wenwen based on an interview with Max Parthas, Co-Director of State Operations for the Abolish Slavery National Network, a US-based national coalition fighting to abolish constitutional slavery and involuntary servitude. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn