Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Slavery - A Modern Day Problem

The reading of the United States Constitution by the newly elected members of the House of Representatives skipped the parts of the document that made reference to slavery. They did not want to remind the people that slaves were considered 3/5 of a person (United State's Constitution Article 1, Section 2). Slavery is a part of our history we can't hide from. Even the Bible makes uncomfortable references to slavery (Exodus 20:21, Ephesians 6:5). Is slavery just an embarrassing reminder of an uncivilized past isn't it?

A friend recently reminded my that the 13th Amendment does not end slavery. In part it reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction". (13th Amendment - United States Constitution). In other words prisoners can be treated as slaves. They also are being used as slave labor throughout the country every day. Why should this cause concern? After all they were convicted of a crime.

Illinois is broke. The recent tax increase attests to that. Housing prisoners costs a lot a money. More than $30,000 per year per person. At a sentencing hearing a judge is required to, "...consider the financial impact of incarceration based on the financial impact statement filed with the clerk of the court by the Department of Corrections;". (730 ILCS 5/5-4-1). Yet, sentencing gets more harsh each year. The tax increase wont solve the state's financial problems. People are looking for a way to decrease costs and increase revenue.

The sentences handed out for non-violent drug crimes in Illinois often exceed the sentences for murder. Federal sentences most of the time involve greater prison terms than state charges. Jails and prisons are full. The United States, by far, has more citizens in prison than any other nation. This includes China which has a population that is around four times that of the United States of America.

The problem of overcrowded prisons and not enough money to support them may lead to a disturbing solution. It could lead to a new slave nation. Private for profit prisons have a huge incentive to encourage harsher prison sentences. This is even more so if they can avail themselves of free slave labor. Illinois at this time does not have private for profit prisons. The Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act, bars private prisons in Illinois. (730 ILCS 140/1-140/4). That being said according to Wikipedia as of the year 2000, there were 153 private correctional facilities with a capacity to hold 119,000 inmates in the United States (Wikipedia).
Even if a state does not rely on private facilities to house inmates they can still benefit. Illinois is not opposed to using prison labor. According to the Illinois Department of Correction's web site the use of prison labor is on the rise in the last two decades. Other states have also gotten in on the action. Including states that rent prisoners to big business at discount prices. Slavery may not violate the 13th Amendment but it may violate the 8th Amendment. The 8th Amendment states, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.".

Is there a better win the war on drugs than putting non-violent offender is prison. Is there a point when slave labor in and of itself is considered, "cruel and unusual"? Should the over representation in prisons of African Americans, when compared to the general population, cause concerns when the issue of slavery is addressed? Perhaps, new blog topics for the future.