WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05) continued her work to finally end slavery in the United States by reintroducing the Abolition Amendment. The Abolition Amendment would remove the “Exceptions Clause”, a loophole in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution that abolished slavery, except “as a punishment for crime.” When passed, the Abolition Amendment would end the morally reprehensible practice of slavery and forced labor in America. Congresswoman Williams introduced similar legislation in the 117th Congress, which eventually secured 193 cosponsors. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) is introducing companion legislation in the Senate alongside Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
In 2022, voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont passed ballot measures that abolished slavery in their state constitutions. The four states joined Colorado, Nebraska, and Utah where voters passed similar measures to amend their states’ constitutions.
Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05) said:
“Slavery was wrong from day one, and we should have abolished it when the 13th Amendment was ratified. I will keep pushing–no matter how long it takes– for Congress to close the Slavery Loophole in the Constitution, finally ending slavery in America once and for all. People in states across the country are making their voices heard by voting to abolish slavery. We’ve waited long enough. The time to pass the Abolition Amendment is now.”
“This country was founded on the principles of equality and justice—principles that have never been compatible with the horrific realities of slavery and white supremacy,” said Senator Merkley. “Nearly 160 years after the 13th Amendment was ratified, the evil remnants of slavery persist in the U.S., embedded in the heart of our Constitution. To live up to our nation’s promise of justice for all, we must take a long overdue step towards those principles by removing the loophole in our ban on slavery. No slavery, no exceptions.”
“In 2023, we still have legal slavery in the United States because Congress left this institution in place for “punishment for a crime” when it passed the Thirteenth Amendment. This has allowed our government to exploit individuals who are incarcerated and to profit from their forced labor – perpetuating the oppression of Black Americans, mass incarceration, and systemic racism,” said Senator Booker. “This loophole is at odds with our nation’s foundational principles of liberty, justice, and equality for all our people. It is time we pass the Abolition Amendment and finally end the morally reprehensible practice of slavery in this country. We must ensure that all people are treated with fairness and dignity to truly live up to our nation’s promise.”
Click here for the bill text.
“Slavery is wrong, under any and every circumstance, for all people, and our Constitution should reflect that,” said Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises. “Slavery is a system that relies on the denial of others’ humanity, which we all agree is reprehensible. Incarcerated people deserve the same protection of their basic human rights, including the right to be protected from slavery, as all people. It’s past time that we put an end to this exception and abolish slavery for all. We applaud Senators Merkley and Booker and Congresswoman Williams for introducing this joint resolution. This is a moral issue, and should not be a matter of party politics. It’s time for Congress to act.”
“Slavery is hidden behind prison walls, in a system rife with racial prejudice, abuse, and inadequate oversight — out of sight and mind as long as we may pretend people inside prison are not people. They are,” said Celina Chapin, Associate Director of Advocacy at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. “Where slavery exists, community health, rehabilitation, justice, and true public safety cannot. ARC is honored to stand alongside partners across the country in supporting the re-introduction of the Abolition Amendment.”
“Having the Abolition Amendment re-introduced gets us one step closer to rectifying a deep wrong that we have allowed to fester in our country – the loophole that has permitted the public and private sectors to perpetuate slavery and involuntary servitude for millions of people in our U.S. prison system,” said Jorge A. Renaud, LatinoJustice PRLDEF National Criminal Justice Director and Director of the Southwest Region. “As someone who spent decades in prison contributing hard labor without receiving adequate compensation or dignity, I know the deep scars and harm to our communities inflicted by a system that removes choice and people’s self-worth. We must finish the work started more than a century ago to align our country’s law with its best principles and end all forms of slavery once and for all, for all of us.”
“We are grateful to Congressmember Williams and Senators Merkley and Booker for re-introducing this amendment, which would have life-changing consequences for more than a million people behind bars today,” said Sean Kyler, Operations Manager, Advocacy & Partnerships, at Vera Institute of Justice. “Congress began ending slavery in 1865; today, it must finish the job.”
Following the ratification of the 13th Amendment, including the Slavery Clause, in 1865, Southern jurisdictions arrested Black Americans in large numbers for minor crimes, like loitering or vagrancy, codified in new ‘Black Codes,’ which were only applied to Black Americans. The Slavery Clause was then used by sheriffs to lease out imprisoned individuals to work landowners’ fields, which in some cases could have included the very same plantations where the prisoners had previously been enslaved. The practice grew in prevalence and scope to the point that, by 1898, 73% of Alabama’s state revenue came from renting out the forced labor of Black Americans.
The Slavery Clause continued to incentivize minor crime convictions and drive the over-incarceration of Black Americans throughout the Jim Crow era and forced labor on infamous prison plantations like Parchman in Mississippi and Angola in Louisiana. The corruption of our criminal justice into a system with embedded discrimination fueling mass incarceration has continued through elements of the War on Drugs, the proliferation of the three strike laws, severe plea deals, and harsh mandatory minimum policies—with continued devastating effects on communities of color.
Today’s mass incarceration policies have driven an $80 billion detention industry and a rate of American incarceration that is nothing short of a crisis, with 2.3 million prisoners—20% of the world’s incarcerated population—residing in the United States. America currently contains 1,833 state and 110 federal prisons, in addition to 1,772 juvenile facilities, 3,134 jails, and 218 immigration detention facilities. There are 80 Tribal jails.
The Abolition Amendment is supported by Abolish Slavery National Network, Abolish Private Prisons, Action Center on Race and the Economy, Alliance of Families for Justice, Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee of Arizona, Amnesty International USA, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Arts for Healing and Justice Network, Black and Pink, Brennan Center for Justice, The Bronx Defenders, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, California Lawyers for the Arts, Civil Rights Corps, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), College and Community Fellowship, Common Justice, Color of Change, Constitutional Accountability Center, Corporate Accountability Lab, Creative Arts, CURE National, Designing Justice Designing Spaces, #DetentionKills, Dolores Street Community Services, Dream Corps Justice, Ensuring Parole for Incarcerated Citizens, Equal Justice Initiative, Ex-incarcerated People Organizing, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Filling the Gap, Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM), Forward Justice, Freedom United, FWD.us, Guazabara Insights, Human Trafficking Search, Immigrant Defense Advocates, Impact Justice, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, Incarceration Nations Network, Just Leadership USA, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Living Beyond the Bars, MarchON, Michigan Liberation, Millions for Prisoners New Mexico, Movement for Family Power, MoveOn, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Religious Campaign Against Torture, One Fair Wage, Paul Cuffee Abolitionist Center, Polaris, Presente, Prison Policy Initiative, Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, Project South, Promise of Justice Initiative, PushBlack, Rehabilitation Through the Arts, Represent Justice, SawariMedia, Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Social Workers and Allies Against Solitary Confinement, Southern Anti-Racism Network, Southern Poverty Law Center, Southwest Save the Kids from Incarceration, Texas Organizing Project, The Community, The Justice Roundtable, Towards Justice, Transgender Law Center, Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois, United Voices of Cortland, Vera Institute of Justice, Verité, Vital Voices Global Partnership, VOCAL-NY, WE GOT US NOW, Working Families Party, Worth Rises, Young Women’s Freedom Center, and Zealous.
Congresswoman Nikema Williams proudly serves Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District on the exclusive Financial Services Committee. She is a champion of voting rights and builds on the Fifth District’s legacy as the cradle of the civil rights movement as co-chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus. Congresswoman Williams is committed to closing the racial wealth gap and ensuring everyone can share in the promise of America–no matter your ZIP code or bank account.