An amendment to the New Jersey Constitution, which would prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude in New Jersey prisons, has advanced from the NJ Senate’s State Government Committee. The bill is sponsored by Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Senator Ronald Rice (D-Essex).
Currently, the New Jersey Constitution does not include any language concerning slavery or involuntary servitude.
This constitutional amendment would expressly prohibit them as punishment for a crime, which is allowed under the United States Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bans involuntary servitude, “except as punishment for crime.”
“The United States was founded on slavery and white supremacy, and we as a nation have yet to come to terms with that reality,” Cunningham said. “While chattel slavery was abolished under the 13th Amendment, our prisons continue to serve as modern day plantations with predominantly Black and brown individuals working for cents on the dollar. Under our constitutional amendment, prisons in New Jersey would no longer be able to force incarcerated individuals to work in dismal conditions for minimal pay.”
Setting New Jersey on the right path
This amendment would ensure that no prisoner in New Jersey would be involuntarily forced into labor, even if the labor performed by the prisoner would be compensated.
“Folks in the New Jersey prison system are coerced into involuntary servitude, and if they don’t comply, they are often severely punished and/or retaliated against,” said Rice. “We must set right the treatment of prisoners in our prison system and guarantee that no one is unwillingly forced to preform work, whether they are being compensated two dollars or not. Our justice system continues to tarnish our nation’s principles, but this amendment would set New Jersey on the right path to finally ending indentured servitude in our state once and for all.”
The constitutional amendment, SCR-96, was released from committee by a vote of 4-0.
The amendment will now need to be voted on by the NJ Senate and State Assembly. If three-fifths of both the Senate and Assembly vote in favor of the amendment, the people of New Jersey will then vote on the amendment via referendum.
If a majority of the people vote in favor of the amendment, it passes and becomes part of the NJ Constitution.
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