Colorado clergy demand lawmakers end legal slavery. Huh?

Clergy members are celebrating a new bill to nix a law that allows slavery to be used to punish convicts.


Slavery has been abolished in the United States since just after the Civil War, right?

Not entirely. Under both the Colorado and U.S. constitutions, slavery is still a permissible way to punish a person convicted of a crime. It’s what allows corporations to enlist prisoners to work without pay.

Many in Colorado’s faith community are demanding reform.

A group of 40 interfaith clergy met today at Denver’s Shorter Community AME Church to unite under the banner: “No slavery, No exceptions.” These 21st century abolitionists are rallying support for a bill slated to be introduced this week by Sen. Jessie Ulibarri that would send a ballot measure to voters asking them to strike legalized slavery from Colorado law. Rep. Joseph Salazar and Rep. Jovan Melton will introduce the bill in the House.

The constitutional clause in the lawmakers’ crosshairs: “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

This clause is used in prisons where corporations exploit unpaid inmate labor, said Pastor Del Phillips, of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance.

“I think it is a travesty that there are corporations that are being allowed to prosper because of the punishment of an individual. That’s out of sorts. That’s out of balance,” said Phillips.”If it’s possible for a business to make money from an industry inside a prison, then they should have to pay for that work that’s being done behind those closed walls.”

Jumoke Emery of the social justice group Together Colorado is optimistic the bill will have success in the Democratic controlled House, if the measure can pass through the Senate.

But without enough public pressure on lawmakers, he said the servitude measure may be sent to the Republican majority Senate’s state affairs committee, where some bills are killed before they can be heard.

Stay tuned. The Colorado Independent will keep following the story.

Photo credit: Murky1, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. This is truly inspiring and courageous legislation proposed by the Denver Ministerial Alliance, Pastor Del Phillips, State Senator Jessie Ulibarri; and Representatives Joseph Salazar, and Jovan Melton.

    There are problems in changing this 1876 State Constitutional Article 2, Section 26; wherein multiple other States have done the same without Abolishing any “negative conditions” of Prison Slavery.

    Unfortunately, and unwittingly, these States have failed to “pass statutes” that return Citizenship Rights to prisoners or ex-prisoners. In essence, and in reality, such legislation has only served to remove offensive language from the various State Constitutions without truly abolishing any negative condition with Reconstruction Citizenship, Voting, Labor, Human, Family Rights; and not even the enforcement right to be Free from Cruel and Unusual (or Usual)Punishments.

    Without Supporting Statutes, Removal of the wording of this 1876 Article will only serve to further hide “…slavery…as a punishment for crime…” from public view. Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

    See, if a definitive statement, or new Article, is not passed then authority is deferred back to the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, wherein “…slavery…as a punishment for crime…” resides on highest Authority as the “Law of the Land”.

    The Children and Grandchildren of the old Abolitionist proposed this wording: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, NOT EVEN AS A PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (or, in the State of Colorado).

    Please consider, for just one second, what would have been the fate of the millions of newly Emancipated Slaves after the Civil War without the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments; and, the later Civil Rights Act?

    Today, only a small number of people know that the 1864 leading Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner opposed the EXCEPTION in the 13th Amendment for “…SLAVERY…AS A PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME…”

    That number has just increased.

    Thank you for considering my comments.

    Towards Abolition of Prison Slavery,
    Lee Wood

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