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Justice 101: Exploring the 13th Amendment and the Persistence of Forced Labor in Prisons

April 17, 2024, 6:30 pm – 7:15 pm

Justice 101: Exploring the 13th Amendment and the Persistence of Forced Labor in Prisons

Virtual Program. Free.

In this thought-provoking program, we delve into the complex issues surrounding the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ostensibly bans slavery with the exception of punishment for a crime. Despite the constitutional prohibition, reports suggest that forced prison labor persists, raising critical questions about the intersection of justice, incarceration, and human rights.

It has been 157 years since the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, yet hundreds of thousands of people are still living in involuntary servitude — legally — due to loopholes in the law that allow states to extract free labor from prisons. Today, over 65 percent of incarcerated people report being forced to work in prison, doing jobs like firefighting and paving roads for little or no pay while governments and private companies generate billions of dollars each year from their labor.

The program draws attention to the broader national context, where many states have attempted to address the issue in their constitutions. Despite these efforts, prisoners contend that the only tangible transformation is on paper, emphasizing the need for a more profound and substantive reevaluation of prison labor practices.

Join us as we navigate these critical conversations, seeking to raise awareness, encourage dialogue, and advocate for meaningful change within our criminal justice system. This month's program will feature Wilfredo Laracuente and an additional speaker to be announced.

About the Speakers:

Wilfredo Laracuente headshot

Wilfredo Laracuente (he/him) is an advocate, educator, and formerly incarcerated leader working with detainees on transitional skills on Rikers Island. He aims to provide a voice for incarcerated people by not only providing insight into the struggles that incarcerated people face daily, but actively working towards deconstructing the harmful and dehumanizing nature of prison. Most recently, Wilfredo was a community organizer with the Office of The Community Liaison.

Alexander (he/him) smiles at the camera.Alexander Tsesis (he/him) is the D’Alemberte chair in constitutional law at the Florida State University College of Law. He is also the general editor of the Cambridge Studies on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Oxford Theoretical Foundations in Law. Tsesis’ scholarship and teaching focus on a breadth of subjects, including constitutional law, civil rights, constitutional reconstruction, interpretive methodology, free speech theory, and legal history. 

Jennifer Turner smiles at the camera. Jennifer Turner (she/her) is the human rights researcher in the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. She conducts documentation research and advocacy on human rights violations in the United States. She is the author of numerous ACLU reports, including A Living Death, on life without parole sentences for nonviolent offenses; Island of Impunity, which documents police brutality and violence in Puerto Rico; and Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity, on how terrorism financing policies undermine Muslims’ religious freedom and charitable giving.

The Honorable Reverend smiles at the camera.The Honorable Reverend Nicolas V. O'Rourke (he/him) is a Working Families Party At-Large Councilman and Minority Whip for Philadelphia City Council and Pastor (Covenant) of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Oxford Circle. Prior to serving as a Councilmember, he was an active community organizer with POWER, an interfaith grassroots group. While at POWER he focused on dismantling the crippling effects of Mass Incarceration and Police Brutality on people of color; advocating for fully funded schools; championing better pay for workers; and combating White Christian Nationalism, Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism in Philadelphia.

About the Justice 101 Series:

Justice 101 is a new series brought to you by the Center for Justice Education at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site where we examine the history of the justice system in America from our founding to today and the impact it has on our society, citizens, and world.

Once a month, we invite special guests to foster dialogue about a different topic in criminal justice. Justice 101 programs take place virtually via Zoom, and each is 45 minutes long (30-minute program plus 15-minute Q&A). You can join us live at the times listed, or watch the programs back anytime on YouTube.

Click here for a full list of upcoming Justice 101 programs.

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