Lawrence A Robinson
Oct 17, 2023
In March 2022, bills that would explicitly abolish “slavery or involuntary servitude” from Florida’s constitution, “including as a penalty or punishment for crime,” were withdrawn from consideration. With such a high rate of incarceration and little rights for inmates, several major companies are reportedly using slave labor for their benefit.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on December 6, 1865. It abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where the party was convicted.
There have been no modifications to the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, a few states have made local modifications.
The Thirteenth Amendment was necessary because the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln in January of 1863, did not end slavery entirely. The proclamation only declared slaves in the south to be freed. Those folk enslaved in border states were still under their master’s whip.
In addition to banning slavery, the amendment outlawed the practice of involuntary servitude and peonage. Involuntary servitude or peonage occurs when a person is coerced to work in order to pay off debts. The 13th Amendment exempts from the involuntary servitude clause, persons convicted of a crime, and persons drafted to serve in the military. In other words, a person in prison or the military can be coerced to work in an involuntary servitude or peonage position in order to pay off debt.
Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont amended their state constitutions in November 2022 to ban involuntary servitude and slavery. They follow Colorado, Nebraska, and Utah, which had already abolished the exception.
This means that prisoners in those states not listed above, can be required to work without violating the Thirteenth Amendment, as long as they are not forced to work.
Additionally, the Thirteenth Amendment exempts persons drafted to serve in the military from the involuntary servitude clause. This means that the government can require military service without violating the Thirteenth Amendment.
In Florida, in early 2022, State Senator Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach and Representative Dianne Hart of Tampa filed companion bills (SJR 392 and HJR 39) to create a new section in the Florida Constitution that would explicitly abolish “slavery or involuntary servitude” from Florida’s constitution, “including as a penalty or punishment for crime”.
The proposed amendment would add Section 28 to Article I of the Florida Constitution and prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude. The bills were referred to the Judiciary, Criminal Justice, and Rules committees but were indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration on March 14, 2022. This was Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis at work.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Florida has an incarceration rate of 795 per 100,000 people, meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth.
The Florida Times-Union reports that hundreds of state and municipal agencies, as well as dozens of state colleges and nonprofits, tap into the forced labor pool. Some 2,500 prisoners are assigned to community work squads, and another 1,000 to Florida Department of Transportation Road squads. The ACLU reports that over 65% of incarcerated people report being forced to work in prison for little or no pay while governments and private companies generate billions of dollars each year from their labor.
According to the Florida Statutes, a prisoner who willfully refuses to cooperate with the reimbursement efforts of the detention facility may have a lien placed against the prisoner’s cash account or other personal property and may not receive gain time as provided by Florida Statute. 951.21. Additionally, refusing to work in prison can have serious consequences. You may face disciplinary actions, lose earned time off, or be placed in solitary confinement. Participation in work programs is often a requirement for being granted parole or early release.
It’s worth noting that incarcerated persons in Florida have no Constitutional right not to work, and courts have upheld the practice of placing incarcerated persons in disciplinary confinement for refusing to work in the prison industry or elsewhere, or instigating others to refuse work, while under the control of the penal system.
According to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, some of the biggest companies in the US use prison labor, and the pay is abysmal (if they pay at all). Here are some of the companies that use prison labor:
Walmart: Inmates are used to perform manufacturing tasks.
McDonald’s: McDonald’s has been using prison labor for many of its frozen foods.
Nintendo: Nintendo has been accused of using prison labor to manufacture its products.
Microsoft: Microsoft has been accused of using prison labor to manufacture its products.
Victoria’s Secret: Victoria’s Secret has been accused of using prison labor to manufacture its products.
AT&T: AT&T uses inmates to provide telecommunication services.
Bank of America: Bank of America has been accused of using prison labor to process data.
Starbucks: Starbucks uses inmates to package holiday coffee.
Wendy’s: Wendy’s has been accused of using prison labor to process beef.
This is not an exhaustive list, and surly there may be other companies that use prison labor.
The prison-industrial complex (PIC) is a term used by scholars and activists to describe the many relationships between institutions of imprisonment (such as prisons, jails, detention facilities, and psychiatric hospitals) and the various businesses that benefit from them. The term is most often used in the context of the contemporary United States, where the expansion of the U.S. inmate population has resulted in economic profit and political influence for private prisons and other companies that supply goods and services to government prison agencies.
According to this concept, incarceration not only upholds the justice system but also subsidizes construction companies, companies that operate prison food services and medical facilities, surveillance and corrections technology vendors, corporations that contract cheap prison labor, correctional officers’ unions, private probation companies, criminal lawyers, and the lobby groups that represent them.
The term also refers more generally to interest groups who prioritize financial gain over rehabilitating criminals. Proponents of this concept believe that the economic incentives of prison construction, prison privatization, prison labor, and prison service contracts have transformed incarceration into an industry capable of growth and have contributed to mass incarceration. These advocacy groups note that incarceration affects people of color at disproportionately high rates.
So, this holiday season while you are enjoying that expensive cup of coffee from Starbucks and watching your lady strut her stuff in the lingerie that you bought from Victoria Secret, remember, it’s your tax dollars paying for the slave housing and the guards that keep your slaves in check, that brought you these luxuries.