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


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