To: Members of the Virginia General Assembly
End Slavery in Virginia Now!
To the Honorable Members of the Virginia General Assembly,
We, the undersigned, are writing to urge you to take immediate action to amend the state constitution to fully abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude, including as punishment for a crime.
As you may be aware, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865 to abolish chattel slavery in the United States, the language of the amendment left a gaping loophole, commonly referred to as the ‘exception clause,’ that allows slavery and involuntary servitude "as a punishment for crime."
"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."
The end of slavery left Southern plantation owners and other businesses that depended on the labor of enslaved people in desperate need of workers, and because of the Thirteenth Amendment's exception permitting enslavement as punishment for crime, the criminal justice system became one of the primary means of continuing the legalized involuntary servitude of African Americans. Southern states, such as Virginia, immediately implemented discriminatory laws to arrest and imprison large numbers of black people, then leased prisoners to private individuals and corporations in a system of convict leasing that resulted in dangerous conditions, abuse, and death. While states profited, prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, hazardous, and often deadly work conditions. Thousands of people were forced into a brutal system that historians have called “worse than slavery.” By the middle of the 20th century, states abandoned convict leasing due to industrialization and political pressure and extended slavery through chain gangs and prison farms.
Today, the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and 70 percent of the more than two million people incarcerated in America are non-white. In our state alone, 69,000 people are behind bars. Virginia has an incarceration rate of 749 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth. Allowing any person to be enslaved in this country for any reason cannot be reconciled with fundamental American values, and our values as Virginians. In recent years, there have been numerous reports of prisoners in Virginia being forced to work for little or no pay, with wages between 27 and 80 cents an hour, often in dangerous and degrading conditions. The continued use of prisoners for forced labor in Virginia not only violates the basic human rights of the individuals involved but perpetuates a system of racial and economic inequality that has marred the state's history for far too long.
The state constitution is supposed to be a representation of the values of its citizens, and we are writing to let you know that slavery of any form is not something that will be excused or tolerated.
Just in November of last year, four more states, Tennessee, Alabama, Oregon, and Vermont, passed ballot measures that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, including as a form of punishment for a crime, joining Colorado, Nebraska, Utah and Rhode Island. In addition, at least 14 other states, including California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas, are currently active in efforts to have similar bills passed, demonstrating a growing momentum to end this practice across the country.
We believe that Virginia has a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in this movement by joining these states and amending its state constitution to fully abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude. This would not only be a significant step towards justice and equality, but it would also serve as an inspiration for other states to follow suit.
We therefore implore you to take swift action to amend the state constitution to fully abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude, including as punishment for a crime. This would send a clear message that Virginia is committed to upholding the fundamental principles of justice, fairness, and human dignity.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Why is this important?
It is 2023, yet slavery is still legal in the state of Virginia. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, a loophole legalized slavery “as punishment for a crime.” This loophole, also known as the ‘exception clause,’ has been exploited ever since, and is still in effect today, allowing for the forced labor of Virginia’s incarcerated population for merely 27 to 80 cents an hour.
Slavery is a reprehensible practice that has no place in our modern world. It is a fundamental violation of human rights, and we must take a stand to tell legislators that it has no place in Virginia.
By signing this petition, you can help send a powerful message to our lawmakers that the people of Virginia demand an end to all forms of slavery, including as punishment for a crime. Together, we can make a difference and ensure that our state is a place where freedom and justice are truly upheld.
Please take a moment to sign this petition and share it with your friends and family. We must act now to end slavery and involuntary servitude in Virginia and create a better future for all.
Thank you for your support.