Abolish Prison Slavery

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[Prison Labor] [Texas]

Abolish Prison Slavery

A search of the Texas constitution reveals no trace of the word slavery or any reference to the use of prisoner labor as slaves. Nevertheless, Texas has a long and unbecoming history of resisting the economic integration of Blacks into it's society and exploiting the use of prisoners as slave labor (including Mexicans) etc.

The 13th Amendment to the US constitution states in pertinent part: "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime... shall exist within the United States." The 13th Amendment was formally adopted on December 18, 1865. Texas was not among the states ratifying this amendment. In 1866, participants at a constitutional convention took the position that it was unnecessary to adopt this amendment. By taking an oath to support the united states constitution, they had indirectly abolished slavery and this was sufficient. It was not until February 18, 1870 that Texas formally adopted the 13th amendment, and this was only done grudgingly, to satisfy conditions for gaining admission back into the union.

Prisoners perform valuable services in their prisons and in a multitude of different prison industries. Without prisoner labor, these prisons and prison industries could not function. From the inception of its prison system, Texas historically refused to pay its prisoners any wages for their work, no doubt relying upon the clause carving out an exception for prisoner labor in the 13th amendment of the US constitution as their authority for doing so.

The 70th Texas legislature reversed this long standing practice and policy by creating work credits as part of its major overhaul of the parole system. Under the 1/4 as this legislation came to be called, these work credits vested when earned, and hastened a prisoner's mandatory supervision date. Since this law was enacted, prisoners have been receiving a half day of work credit for every day of calendar time served.

During the term of the 74th legislature, from 1995 to 1997, the parole board's ability to perform its statutorily delegated function of reviewing all parole candidates applying the Texas parole guidelines to their cases and issuing decisions as to their fitness for parole was clearly illusory. The parole board was vastly lacking the staff and resources to perform this task. Nevertheless, the 74th legislature increased the authority of the parole board by giving them the right to cancel a prisoner's work credit, simply upon a finding that the prisoner's release could endanger the public's safety.

A finding that a prisoner's release could endanger the public's safety is ambiguous, vague and vulnerable to abuse. Parole candidates have seen their mandatory supervision date pass as well as their good time and work credits rescinded for just this reason, with no factual basis and no reasoned decision to support this finding.

The parole board is making its prisoners serve their sentences day for day, acting above Texas law and of our US Constitution, like the 13th amendment, claiming it is giving out parole when a prisoner is within months or a year of finishing his or her entire prison sentence. Is this not illegal, and prison slavery? Indeed.

MIM(Prisons) responds: We don't like to use the word "slavery" too much in reference to the modern U$ prison system. Though in fact, slavery is legal in U$ prisons according to the 13th Amendment, which this writer seems to ignore. As we have discussed elsewhere, the prison system is not akin to the economic system of slavery in capitalist or pre-capitalist societies. It is a form of the mass lumpenization that is unique to modern imperialism, and is about managing excess populations, not acquiring populations for exploitation.

We appreciate the brief history of Texas policies provided by this writer, but would add to it the significance of the history of the 13th Amendment. As mentioned, this amendment allowed for slavery in prisons at a time when imprisonment of Blacks was even easier than it is today. This was a bone thrown to the white nation in the South who stood to loose out from the new economic realities following the Civil War. Southern whites were given a means to control Black labor on a small scale to get them through the transition. Today the 13th Amendment plays a similar role, where mostly Blacks and Latinos are forced to do much of the maintenance labor to support their own imprisonment, while predominantly white staff make fat checks as watchdogs and bureaucrats in the system.