Although more than a hundred years have passed since the abolishment of slavery, the practice is still technically legal — according to Colorado’s constitution.
“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,” according to section 26 of article II in the Colorado state constitution.
Amendment T, introduced earlier this year, proposes a change in the wording of section 26. The change would eliminate the exceptions to slavery. Instead, the language of the law would read: “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”
If the amendment is approved, higher fines may be issued to offenders in place of community service and work requirements — which could impact state revenue.
Currently, inmates perform reduced-cost labor for the state of Colorado. While extra work is not required, it may contribute to faster parole date. If inmates do not produce work, the state of Colorado may have to hire workers at minimum wage.
The utility of the current law lies in work requirements for prisoners of the state.
According to the Colorado Blue Book, those currently incarcerated or on probation are not required to work during their sentences, but they may be assigned to work duties or community service and “face a reduction in or loss of privileges or a delayed parole eligibility date,” if they choose not fulfill work requirements.
Currently, the unique phrasing makes it easier for prisons to assign work to inmates — cost free. While those incarcerated may not be forced to undertake mandatory labor, the law makes it easier for prisons to enforce penalties for those who choose not to work.
The proposed amendment has received little opposition on its path to the ballot in November. Both the Colorado Senate and House unanimously approved Amendment T for voter decision.
The argument against the amendment comes from the bill itself.
“Amendment T may result in legal uncertainty around current offender work practices in the state. Prison work requirements provide structure and purpose for offenders, while enabling skill building and helping to reduce recidivism,” the amendment states.
“Community service programs allow offenders to engage with the community and make amends for their crimes. Such practices have a place in the correctional system, and legal challenges resulting from the passage of Amendment T could put the application of these practices in jeopardy.”
Collegian reporter Dan DeHerrera can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @thedanwrites.