Lawmaker seeks to end Louisiana’s ‘slavery exception’ clause

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A Louisiana lawmaker has put forward legislation to amend the state’s Constitution to abolish forced labor as punishment for those convicted of a crime.

Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Brusly, said Wednesday that language effectively protecting the institution of slavery “should never have been there in the first place.”

“Anyone of good conscience should be embarrassed by this,” he said, adding if the legislature supports a constitutional amendment, the issue will be on the ballot in November 2022 and then go to voters for approval.

The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, enacted in 1865, formally abolishes slavery. However, it includes an exception that allows slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment upon conviction of a crime. Many states, including Louisiana, have similar language in their own constitutions.

In the last two years, Colorado, Utah and Nebraska removed the clause and 12 other states have now announced plans to submit similar legislation this year.

In Louisiana, men and women in the state’s jails and prisons do everything from harvesting crops, sewing and printing brochures to doing janitorial work at the Governor’s mansion.

Curtis Davis, who spent 25 years at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, was among those who earned pennies a day working on the prison’s quail farm.

Davis, now executive director of Decarcerate Louisiana, which advocates for social change, noted that “no other industrialized country on the planet Earth actually has legalized slavery.”

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