The Thirteenth Amendment and Modern Slavery

How to Combat Modern Slavery

thirteenth amendment

The Thirteenth Amendment Condones Slavery.

Though surprising, the text of the Thirteenth Amendment clearly states circumstances when slavery is legal. Indeed, it is an exception to the general abolition of slavery and indentured servitude under the Thirteenth Amendment. It provides as follows:

U.S. Const. amend. XIII, § 1.
“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.”
U.S. Const. amend. XIII, § 2.
“Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”


The Thirteenth Amendment condones slavery as punishment for crime.
What is the scope of the exception?
What is the meaning of “punishment?”
Does “punishment” mean “judicially imposed penalty?”
Does “punishment” consist of everything that happens while incarcerated?
How far can the exception stretch without swallowing up the rule?
Slavery and imprisonment both deprive prisoners of individual liberty.
Are slavery and imprisonment necessarily distinct?
In what ways, if any, are slavery and imprisonment similar?
Is slavery equally acceptable as imprisonment for the purpose of punishment?
The American Prison System is not a cottage industry
Does prison privatization alter your opinion about any of this?
American Prison Pop.: 2,217,947 (as of 12/31/2014 according to ICPS)
Pretrial Detainees: 20.4% (percentage of prison population, 2013)
Female Prisoners: 9.3% (2013)
Foreign Prisoners: 5.5%

There is more to the Thirteenth Amendment than offered here. See, e.g., Kamal Ghali, No Slavery Except as a Punishment For Crime: The Punishment Clause and Sexual Slavery, UCLA L. Rev. 607, 621-632 (2008), available at (analyzing Thirteenth Amendment original understanding, judicial precedent, and historical evidence).

More information about prisoners in American industry is available on the Internet.

For similar articles, please view The Emancipation Proclamation Signed By Pres. Lincoln Dateline Jan. 1, 1863 and Attica Prison Uprising: An American Powder Keg.