END SLAVERY: Rep. Vivian Flowers with key portion of proposal. Jessi Turnure/KARK

State Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) has proposed a constitutional amendment to end slavery for those convicted of crimes.

At a news conference today, she said Arkansas was one of only two states that still used unpaid prison labor.

Her proposal says:

(a) Arkansas Constitution, Article 2, § 27, permits slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime.

(b) As the Arkansas Constitution is the moral and legal foundation of our state, abolishing all forms of slavery in the Arkansas Constitution represents the fundamental values held by the citizens of Arkansas.

(c) Because persons of color are overrepresented in the prison system, continued slave labor is an issue of racial and economic injustice.

(d) Arkansas is one of only two (2) states that do not pay inmates anything for their labor.

(e) If a prisoner is working, they should be compensated for that labor so they can afford the basic necessities of life.

(f) The intent of this amendment is to repeal the portion of Arkansas Constitution, Article 2, § 27, allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime to fully abolish slavery in the State of Arkansas and recognize the moral and economic benefits that will result from ending this practice.

Hard to argue with, from my point of view. But, if you’ll recall, Arkansas barely repealed the pro-segregation part of its Constitution in 1992.  Somebody surely will demand a fiscal impact statement.

Advertisement

Slavery is otherwise prohibited by the Constitution, except as punishment for a crime. We learned recently this hasn’t stopped some private businesses of availing themselves of unpaid labor in the name of drug rehab, a practice now being challenged in federal lawsuits.

As late as 2017, there were four states with unpaid labor — Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and Texas. I’m not sure who’s dropped from this list since.

In states where inmates are paid, the amount is typically very small, but for thousands of inmates — an average of 14 to 63 cents for regular jobs and 33 cents to $1.41 for prison industry jobs, according to this list. Even $4 a week helps at the commissary for snacks and toilet articles.