This loophole means legal slavery still exists, but one senator is trying to change that
Jeff Merkley

Recent conversations have brought the history of the USA – and many other countries around the world – into the light.

This may be an opportunity to make a change, as some hope.

The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in the US officially in 1865, but it took another few years before everyone who was a slave was freed.

Now, Senator Jeff Merkley, from the State of Oregon, has pointed out that there’s a noticeable caveat to the 13th Amendment, one which he intends to change.

Basically, it is still legal for many states in the US to use prison labour in order to make goods and services.

In California, prisoners were trained as ‘volunteer’ firefighters – a highly skilled, dangerous and physically straining job – and sent out to fight the wildfires which devastated much of California in the last years.

In a series of tweets, Merkley explained further.

In March, Governor Cuomo of New York suggested that prisoners could be used to make hand sanitiser and masks for a cheaper price – they were also used to dig mass graves.

Merkley is not the first person to point out that this is an existing issue. 13th, a Netflix documentary by Ava DuVernay, looks at how the prison system in the US is overwhelmingly populated by black men, who are often forced into working programmes that take their labour and pay them less than a dollar an hour, if that.

Scholars and activists who focus on ending unjust incarceration systems have long since pointed out that this caveat to the 13th Amendment has essentially legalised a form of slavery out of sight of the general public.

If Merkley is successful in changing the law, it could be the first step towards a legal system that sees prisoners as people as opposed to numbers.

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