Convicted of a crime? Sold into chattel slavery

We have sort of tossed this question around in the past, but here is the text of the Thirteenth Amendment:

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.

(emphasis added). So let’s say a state has a law that if you jaywalk, you are sold into chattel slavery. Constitutional? If that is too absurd (maybe you take the Kennedy/O’ Connor version of the Eighth Amendment) then how about for a serious felony like burglary or armed robbery. The punishment is literally that you are sold to another citizen as chattel. Does this wording allow the punishment?

I have an opinion, but if I may, I will wait for others first.

ETA: Oh, and it is enforced in a non-racial or gendered way. Everyone agrees that it is enforced even handedly against black and white, male and female, etc.

Even if it were legal (and I leave it to my more learned citizens to explain why it isn’t) this stipulation makes it damn near impossible. The laws we have now aren’t enforced in a non-racial or gendered way.

Probably not under the eighth amendment - slavery for jaywalking would definitely be “excessive.”

Democrats in Congress apparently believe that the 13th amendment does provide a loophole for prisoners to be treated as slaves.

And in practice, that loophole was used to treat black people as slaves via a practice termed “convict leasing”.

States put prisoners to work through a practice called “convict-leasing”, whereby white planters and industrialists “leased” prisoners to work for them. States and private businesses made money doing this, but prisoners didn’t. This meant many Black prisoners found themselves living and working on plantations against their will and for no pay decades after the Civil War.

If it were not for that exception, would requiring “community service” as punishment for a crime be illegal (involuntary servitude)?

Yes, but the Eighth Amendment only prohibits “excessive” fines, not other punishments. But let’s put the jaywalking aside. Say murder only. Or treason. Something that we would agree that isn’t “excessive.” The Thirteenth seems to say that you can sell someone into chattel slavery as punishment for a crime.

And this is my opinion. That the clause modifies “involuntary servitude” and not chattel slavery. That you can make prisoners work for free. You can make people perform community service. But you can’t really sell them into chattel slavery. But it is not entirely clear that it says that.

Well, a debate for a different thread, but if this is true, we shouldn’t have any criminal laws at all. I mean, a $100 fine is not fair if it is handed out based on race or gender.

Don’t we already more or less have that? Prisoners are often forced to work, and the text of that amendment is used as justification.

As far as your hypothetical, ethics aside, I have logistical problems with your idea of putting serious felons under the supervision of someone who has bought them.

Tell you what, start with white collar criminals, have tax cheaters and embezzlers mow my lawn, do the dishes, and clean my house.

If a convict that I have bought wins an appeal and is set free, do I get my money back, or at least a pro-rated share?

Speaking of which, do the new “owners” have any responsibility for their upkeep? Is there an expected quality of care? Are there laws against mistreatment, torture, rape, or execution? Could I buy child molestors and kill them slowly and painfully?

Seems that there is quite a bit that would need to be considered to implement your suggestion, even if there is no ethical or constitutional barrier to it.

Your first statement is classic excluded middle fallacy. Just because laws are not fairly administered does not mean that we should not have laws. That is simply ridiculous.

The second statement is true, and represents the sort of reason that we would like to see our justice system be more fair based on race and gender. It is absolutely not at this time.

Do you really think that there is no bias against race or gender in our justice system?

Whoa…It’s not my idea. Just a Socratic question which I’ve already said I disagree with. But, yes, white collar criminals as well.

If you do ten years, do you get money back? ]

Yes. Under this hypo, you have to treat them, say, at least as good as an animal. No torture. No malicious killing.

Not my idea! :slight_smile: But I think the rules could be worked out.

So, then my question remains. If this statement is true, then why is any criminal law fair? Whether it is life without parole or a $50 fine, you agree that if it is skewed based on race and gender, it is not a good law. Would you vote for its repeal?

I’ve long thought there’s a poorly-placed comma in the Thirteenth Amendment. They really should have written it as:

Heck, they could even have used semicolons!

Oh, well.

I don’t think community service is unconstitutional, or even wicked. In fact, I think in many cases it’s better than a fine. I don’t know about “prison labor”—perhaps as a genuinely voluntary option, for prisoners to have something to do and as a way for them to earn a little spending money for the canteen—but certainly prisoners can be “forced” into, say, cleaning their own cells.

Selling people into chattel slavery—even as punishment for a serious crime—would be appalling. And very likely—I hope, and misplaced commas notwithstanding—unconstitutional.

Or they could have used their words:

Slavery is hereby prohibited forever in the United States. This statement shall not be construed to prohibit the use of penal labor during the time of service of the inmate or as a limited time for the punishment of a crime not to exceed one year.

That too. Interestingly, the language they did use—or something very close to it—goes back well before the Thirteenth Amendment. The Northwest Ordinance (which famously prohibited slavery in the Old Northwest) said

So I wonder if the drafters of the Thirteenth Amendment even really thought about it much, or if they just ran with the wording everyone had been using for decades.

You made the thread to discuss it, so whether you are in favor or not, it is still your idea that it has been proposed at all.

If they are sentenced to ten years, then I know what I am getting. If they get off early, then I didn’t get what I paid for.

But I can kill them for food, as long as it’s done humanely? j/k, of course.

I think that it wouldn’t be all that simple. We have enough problems keeping people in prisons with even the most basic of humane treatment. Distributing them across the population would only make it much worse.

Are you claiming that it is not true that there is racial bias in the justice system?

I do not agree that if the justice system is racially biased, that makes laws that the justice system implements bad laws. That is a ridiculous conclusion. It means that the justice system is racially biased, it doesn’t mean that murder should be legal. How you could possibly get to that conclusion is utterly baffling.

The reason that this gets brought up is that you are discussing the possibility of greatly increasing the punishment for crimes. When there already is a disparity in treatment based on minority status, this certainly has the potential to only excoriate that issue.

Jaywalking is an infraction, not a crime, so this kinda breaks the scenario.

It’s probably permitted under the constitution, especially with this court. But it has been long-since outlawed by federal peonage statutes.

Unfortunately, this is where our prison industrial complex has picked up the slack,

Did the crime/infraction distinction exist when the Amendment was written?

I’m just glad I was able to do my part.

Infractions dont lead to jail time. Thus a person wouldnt be exposed to involuntary servitude. Also, prison labor is paid even if the wages are miniscule.