by Robert J. Hansen
Sacramento, CA – A measure that would remove from the California Constitution the exception that allows for involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime passed the Senate Committee on Public Safety yesterday.
The California Abolition Act (ACA3) author Senator Sydney Kamlager said ACA 3 is on the heels of the nationwide abolition movement and seeks to abolish forced labor and involuntary servitude unconditionally in the state of California.
“As it stands the Constitution of our State prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude —“except for the punishment of crime,” Kamlager said. “Abolition is not conditional. In the year 2021, in our great state of California, often touted as one of the most progressive states in the country, this is unacceptable.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) requires every able-bodied prisoner in any state prison to do many hours of faithful labor each day and every day during his or her term of imprisonment.
Members of the California Abolition Act Coalition spoke outside the Capitol before the Committee vote.
The California Abolish Act Coalition speaks at the Capitol before a Senate vote to pass #ACA3, a bill that would remove inclusionary language allowing for involuntary servitude in California. @sydneykamlager @CASenateDems pic.twitter.com/vq90NWkzB1
— Robert J. Hansen (@rjhansen13) May 31, 2022
Coalition chair and original author of the measure Samual Nathaniel Brown said the current system of involuntary servitude in the prison system compromises rehabilitation.
“As it stands with slavery as the predominant form of punishment, it is counterproductive to both rehabilitation and public safety,” Brown said. “And quite frankly, it’s immoral.”
Brown, who was formerly incarcerated for 24 years, said this is not a race or political issue but rather a humanitarian issue.
“This is not a Black issue or a white issue, it’s not a poor issue or a red issue or a blue issue, this is an issue for all of humanity,” Brown said. “This is an opportunity for these lawmakers, today, to stand on the right side of history.”
Chris Lodgson, lead organizer for the Coalition for Just and Equitable California works directly with the California Reparations Task Force Committee alongside its Chair, Kamilah Moore, said to “end slavery now.”
“Right now, you can be forced to work if you are punished for a crime,” Lodgson said. “It is a damn shame that we allow slavery in California. That will change when ACA 3 becomes the law of the land.”
Incarcerated individuals cannot refuse a job assignment and may be disciplined for refusing or failing to show up to work.
Brown said his job in prison was cleaning prison cells and was forced to clean a cell after an inmate who had contracted Covid-19, and would have jeopardized his parole had he refused.
“Having a high morbidity rate and asthma and when I spoke to my supervisors about possibly dying from Covid-19, they told me I had to come to work or else,” Brown said. “What many people don’t know is that on the modern-day plantation, a 115 or 128, that’s the modern-day whip. That’s how they compel you to do what you’d rather not do.”
Existing federal law states that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction under the Thirteenth Amendment.
Max Parthas, national coordinator of the Abolish Slavery National Network, said several other states are following what California is doing and a few other states like Colorado, Utah, and Nebraska.’
“To date, we have already abolished slavery in three states and right now there are four other states that are on the ballot for 2022,” Parthas said via telephone. “By the end of this week, if we are successful, we will see six states with bills on the ballot to end slavery in America for the first time.”
Parthas said 18 states are going to be following suit next year.
Kamilah Moore, chair of California Reparations Task Force Committee, said with reparations and ACA 3, so goes California, so goes the nation.
“With reparations and ACA 3, it’s primarily African Americans that are leading the charge to make this country the progressive nation that we know that it can be,” Moore said.
Moore said the task force on reparations for African Americans will release a report Wednesday outlining the harms perpetuated by the state and recommending steps to address those wrongs.
ACA 3 was referred to the Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments which, if passed, will be on the November ballot for California voters to decide.