Thirteenth Amendment

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Section 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment states,” Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” While on the surface, it appears that this Constitutional Amendment ended all forms of slavery and therefore is only about freedom, in fact it allowed enslavement to continue on as punishment and conviction for criminal acts. At present, the United States remains the world’s biggest jailer: 25% of the world’s prison population with only 5% of the world’s population. Many scholars and filmmakers argue that mass incarceration is little more than a modern form of enslavement (Angela Davis (Links to an external site.), Michelle Alexander, (Links to an external site.) Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Links to an external site.), Ava Duvernay (Links to an external site.), Slavery by Another Name (Links to an external site.), etc.).

Can the U.S. truthfully represent itself as the “home of the brave and the land of the free” if it houses the largest number of prisoners of any nation in the world? Also, if the Thirteenth Amendment proclaims to be about freedom while at the same time rationalizing enslavement as a form of punishment, do you think the Amendment contradicts itself? Why or why not? Finally, what should be done, if anything, to reconcile the intention of the Amendment with the way it has been worded?

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