Is there any crime that can cause slavery or involuntary servitude in the US?
Are prisoners considered as slaves?
It depends. There is a strong argument that the modern Prison-Industrial Complex is slavery since it is actively expanding and innovating new ways to imprison the U.S population and profit from it.
Background to the reasoning
At yearend 2011, approximately 7 million individuals were under some form of
correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in
federal, state, or local prisons and jails.
From the early 1970s to the present, the rate of incarceration and the number of people in prisons and private prisons has climbed dramatically in the United States, despite the rate of crime declining since the late 20th century.
The United States maintains 25% of the world's incarcerated prisoners whilst harboring only 5% of the world's population. This is known among researchers as Mass Incarceration The US's prison population dwarfs the prison populations of every other developed country in the world, including countries thought to be repressive like China and Russia.
Michelle Alexander describes Mass Incarceration as
"the criminal justice system but also to the larger web of laws, rules, policies, and customs that control those labeled criminals both in and out of prison."
In the last forty years, incarceration has increased with rates upwards of 500% despite crime rates decreasing nationally and internationally.
Link to Slavery
Ratified in 1865, the 13th amendment states in full
“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.”
In short, slavery was abolished for everyone except criminals.
The Southern Strategy, a self-described strategy of the Republican Party to gain political support in the South by appealing to the racism against African Americans harbored by many southern white voters, was a key lever in the rise of the prison population.
Republican strategist Lee Atwater discussed the Southern strategy in a 1981 interview later published in Southern Politics in the 1990s by Alexander P. Lamis.
Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
Slavery and Private Prisons
Using the Southern Strategy and positioning themselves as the party of Law & Order; the Republican Party were able to pass legislation which disproportionately targeted African American, Latino and impoverished communities. A trend which continued under Democrat, President Bill Clinton.
Under the sentencing laws from 1960-2000, your chance of going to prison as a black male was 1 in 3. Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males.
Increased Sentencing Laws
America, on average, gives longer sentences than the rest of the western nations and famously uses the 3 Strikes Rule. The exact application of the three-strikes laws varies considerably from state to state, but the laws call for life sentences without possibility of release for at least 25 years on their third strike. Some states include additional, lesser offenses that one would not normally see as violent. California mandated a minimum sentence of 25-to-life so long as the first two felonies were deemed to be either "serious" or "violent". A serious crime could be as innocuous as simply "drug possession".
War on Drugs
The "War on Drugs" is a policy that was initiated by Republican Richard Nixon with the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and vigorously pursued by Republican Ronald Reagan. By 2010, drug offenders in federal prison had increased to 500,000 per year, up from 41,000 in 1985.
According to Michelle Alexander, drug related charges accounted for more than half the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000. 31 million people have been arrested on drug related charges, approximately 1 in 10 Americans. Analysis of drug related sentencing reveals that African Americans are targeted to a far greater degree; for instance the Act imposed the same five-year mandatory sentence on users of crack (typically black crime) as on those possessing 100 times as much powder cocaine (a typically white crime)
It should be noted that the majority of stronger sentencing legislation, almost everything discussed thus far, was sponsored by ALEC (more below).
As the prison population grows, a rising rate of incarceration feeds small and large businesses such as providers of furniture, transportation, food, clothes and medical services, construction and communication firms. Furthermore, the prison system is the third largest employer in the world. Prison activists who buttress the notion of a prison industrial complex have argued that these parties have a great interest in the expansion of the prison system since their development and prosperity directly depends on the number of inmates. They liken the prison industrial complex to any industry that needs more and more raw materials, prisoners being the material.
The prison industrial complex has also been said to include private businesses that benefit from the exploitation of the prison labor; prison mechanisms remove "unexploitable" labor, or so-called "underclass", from society and redefine it as highly exploitable cheap labor. Scholars have argued that the trend of "hiring out prisoners" is a continuation of the slavery tradition.
Reliance on mass imprisonment has created a financial vortex, which sucks away the majority of over $50 billion spent on corrections by the states alone. This penal entrenchment has pushed legislatures to devise ways to make criminals help foot the bill, with Legal Financial Obligations representing a modern iteration of state and local fundraising. LFOs add to an array of legal consequences that create a permanent underclass and keep a lock on individuals long after they leave prison.
Increasingly, jurisdictions across the country are assessing hefty court fines and fees, LFOs, on defendants, requiring them to pay thousands of dollars or face more jail time.
ALEC and Private Prisons / Slaves
ALEC is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization that ALEC provides a forum for state legislators and private sector members to collaborate on bills—draft legislation that members may customize and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures.
ALEC is so widespread that several Republican legislators have forgotten to take the ALEC logo off of the draft legislation that ALEC had given to them to introduce into the house.
ALEC has produced bills on a broad range of Republican issues, such as reducing regulation and individual and corporate taxation, combating illegal immigration, loosening environmental regulations, tightening voter identification rules, weakening labor unions and opposing gun control.
Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed model bills which State legislators can then consult when proposing "tough on crime" initiatives including "Truth in Sentencing" and "Three Strikes" laws. By funding and participating in ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Forces, critics argue, private prison companies influence legislation for tougher, longer sentences. Writing in Governing magazine in 2003, Alan Greenblatt states:
ALEC has been a major force behind both privatizing state prison space
and keeping prisons filled. It put forward bills providing for
mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes sentencing requirements.
About 40 states passed versions of ALEC's Truth in Sentencing model
bill, which requires prisoners convicted of violent crimes to serve
most of their sentences without chance of parole.
In 1995 alone, ALEC’s Truth in Sentencing Act was signed into law in twenty-five states. (Then State Rep. Scott Walker was an ALEC member when he sponsored Wisconsin’s truth-in-sentencing laws and, according to PR Watch, used its statistics to make the case for the law.)
More recently, ALEC has proposed innovative “solutions” to the overcrowding it helped create, such as privatizing the parole process through “the proven success of the private bail bond industry,” as it recommended in 2007. (The American Bail Coalition is an executive member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force.)
In a 2011 report by the ACLU, it is claimed that the rise of the for-profit prison industry is a "major contributor" to "mass incarceration," along with bloated state budgets. Louisiana, for example, has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with the majority of its prisoners being housed in privatized, for-profit facilities. Such institutions could face bankruptcy without a steady influx of prisoners. A 2013 Bloomberg report states that in the past decade the number of inmates in for-profit prisons throughout the U.S. rose 44 percent
Much of ALEC’s proposed labor legislation, implemented state by state is allowing replacement of public workers with prisoners.
“It’s bad enough that our companies have to compete with exploited and
forced labor in China,” says Scott Paul Executive Director of the
Alliance for American Manufacturing, a coalition of business and
unions. “They shouldn’t have to compete against prison labor here at
home. The goal should be for other nations to aspire to the quality of
life that Americans enjoy, not to discard our efforts through a
downward competitive spiral.”
It should be noted that Senator Bernie Sanders proposed the **Justice is Not for Sale Act** which states
The handful of corporations that provide correctional services profit
tremendously from mass incarceration, and have lobbied, through the
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for more draconian
criminal laws that have the effect of increasing the incarcerated
population. The private prison industry has joined the ranks of most
aggressive lobbyists, and the two largest companies have spent $25
million on their efforts. A rise in lobbying and direct campaign
contributions has correlated with dramatic growth in private prison
population, greater overall spending on corrections and a sharp
increase in private company profits. The stock of the top two private
prison companies together is worth over $5.5 billion.
Since his election of Donald Trump; the stocks of the two biggest private prison operators — CoreCivic (formerly know as Corrections Corp. of America) and Geo Group have doubled since election day. CoreCivic is up 140% since President Trump won in November; Geo Group has risen 98%.
Report of The Sentencing Project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee Regarding Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System