End Slavery in California Act placed on November ballot

From California Black Media

SACRAMENTO — The state Senate voted 33-3 to approve Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, a proposition that would end involuntary servitude in state prisons.

The Senate approved the ballot measure June 27, two years after a similar measure was rejected. ACA 8 would mostly impact all prisons in the state that currently use slave labor and indentured servitude as a punishment for crime.

The same day, the bill’s author and California Legislative Black Caucus Chair Lori Wilson made amendments to the legislation before the Assembly voted 68-0, clearing the measure to appear as a ballot proposition for voters to decide in the November elections.

ACA 8 is part of a 14-bill package sponsored by the Legislative Black Caucus to implement policy recommendations from the state-funded reparations task force.

“It is a testament to our collective resolve to correct historical wrongs and ensure that every individual in California is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Wilson said. “Now, as we look ahead to the November 2024 ballot, let us continue to work with the same spirit of determination and unity that has brought us to this moment.” 

A section of the state Constitution states, “slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited.” However, state law makes an exception for incarcerated individuals.

Inmates can earn as much as 48 cents per hour for working as technicians. Inmates working as firefighters earn approximately $5.80 per day to contain fires statewide.

Lawrence Cox, a former inmate and policy fellow with nonprofit Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, said forced labor prevents inmates from focusing on rehabilitation. He shared in front of the Senate committee that California designates approximately 65,000 work assignments to inmates, including high-risk tasks.

Cox was incarcerated for 17 years and shared that he was often forced to work and had no right to refuse dangerous work assignments.

“I have been forced to work jobs and had jobs where I couldn’t get out,” Cox said. “When I wanted to take my on-site college courses to complete my degree, forced labor was prioritized over my rehabilitation.”

Depending on the outcome of the vote, the anti-slavery measure requires the state to pay inmates a minimum wage $16 per hour for their job assignments. The California Department of Finance estimated that it would cost the state $1.5 billion to pay inmates at minimum wage.

If approved, California will join Alabama, Colorado, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont in outlawing indentured servitude.

Jamilia Land, a Sacramento-based advocate who contributed to drafting ACA 8 and serves as coordinator of the End Slavery in California Act Coalition, called the passage of ACA 8 “exciting news.”

Encouraging all Californians to support the measure, Land said, “In November, voters will have the opportunity to support the End Slavery in California Act directly at the ballot box. Stay informed and help spread awareness on ways to contribute to ending slavery in California.” 

ACA 8 was passed without requiring the approval of Gov. Gavin Newsom. The amendment qualified for the November ballot on June 28, the last day to finalize propositions for the November ballot.

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