Modern-Day Slavery: The Ongoing Battle Against Forced Prison Labor in the U.S.

Explore how forced prison labor continues the legacy of slavery in the U.S., with inmates working under duress for meager wages or none at all.

Modern-Day Slavery: The Ongoing Battle Against Forced Prison Labor in the U.S.

The article "Slavery Didn’t End With Emancipation. It Persists in U.S. Prisons" by Andrew Ross, Tommaso Bardelli, and Aiyuba Thomas, highlights how the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, contains an exception clause that allows involuntary servitude as punishment for crime. This loophole has led to the exploitation of prison labor, where inmates work for minimal or no pay under conditions tantamount to modern slavery.

A stark example of this legacy is the convict leasing system that emerged post-Civil War, described as “worse than slavery” due to the lack of incentives to protect the laborers. Today, over 1.2 million inmates in the U.S. are subjected to forced labor, producing goods for government agencies and the open market.

The article advocates for the abolition of this practice and calls for fair wages and better working conditions for inmates. As the authors argue, “Labor that people have no meaningful right to refuse and that is enforced under conditions of total control is, unquestionably, slavery.”

Efforts to amend this situation have gained traction, with several states passing laws to ban forced prison labor. However, resistance remains strong due to concerns about increased costs. Yet, as the authors emphasize, the moral imperative to end this form of slavery and ensure human dignity should outweigh financial objections.