Kanye “Ye” West is in the news again for saying that the 13th Amendment should be repealed. As you can imagine this was not received well at all. This is the amendment that reads, “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.” Of course that makes it sound like he’s advocating that slavery become legal again. Rightfully you can imagine why some were quite upset at this. Kanye either has a knack for saying the wrong thing or for saying the right thing in a the wrong way.
Of course the attention his quote garnered gave him the opportunity to talk more about it. He explained that “The 13th Amendment is slavery in disguise. Meaning it never ended. We are the solution that heals.” What he was focusing on was the part about forcing prisoners to work. He went on to explain that, “Abolish was the wrong language.” He meant that the amendment should be amended to protect prisoners from what he considers exploitation that looks to him an awful lot like slavery.
I’m of the mind that punishments for crimes should be geared toward restitution where that is possible.
I know that’s a system not likely to be workable anytime soon due to the complexities of American society. The idea is simple, if you take something that doesn’t belong to you either you return it, pay the amount of money it cost back to the owner, or you work for the owner a proper amount of time to compensate them. If you assault someone you pay their medical bills, and make some restitution to them. There are cases where there can be no restitution made. You cannot restore a person’s life, if you rape you cannot give that person back what you have taken. For those crimes there would be prison because a removal from society seems required at that point, not for punishment but rather to protect society.
All total there are 2,220,300 people locked up in the United States.
For me that’s a staggering number and one that could be reduced. Of those the majority are for violent crimes. Even those could be reduced of course. Not all violent crimes are committed equal. I would think that if you want justice having the person that punched you mow your lawn or wash your car might be a little more satisfying than them getting locked up.
Dealing with drug offenses alone would release 200,000 people from state prisons. Those are very often people who didn’t hurt anyone and are locked up because they were in possession of something they weren’t allowed by law to posses.
There are over half a million people locked up that haven’t even been convicted of anything yet. They are awaiting trial. If we are going to be spending tax payer money on them I would personally rather see that money go toward using modern technology to tack them. Let them out awaiting trial so they can go to work if they have a job, take their kids to school if they have kids. There are cases where that might not work but those exceptions can easily be managed. We shouldn’t let the exceptions dictate the rule.
So that brings me to Kanye.
In some places, not all, prisoners are put to work. In the old days this was done much more than now. they cut through mountains to build roads and to add amenities to national parks. Now they make a few things, the infamous license plate making for example. Most pick up trash at the side of the road. In a few places they’ve hit on some product or the other that gets sold. In some cases the prisoners themselves actually are given a small percentage of the money but in most they aren’t.
Thinking about this gives me a reason to ponder. Is working in the prison the same as working for restitution? If the 13th amendment were changed to exclude forced labor then my system would get a kink in it if the prisoner refused. Any two people can agree to something so if the criminal and the victim agree then it’s a contract and there’s no need for police or any other form of government to enter into it at all. That can actually happen in many states now. In some states if a crime is committed it doesn’t matter at all if the victim doesn’t want to prosecute the state does it anyway. However, in some other ones if a victim says they don’t want to be a victim then the matter is left alone (with the usual exception of domestic violence).
But what if the criminal doesn’t want to make a deal with the victim? That’s when the state gets involved. If we change the 13th amendment then prisoners would only sit in a cell and it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to make restitution in anyway.
It’s a good point to bring up. It did away with slavery indeed but it didn’t do away with forced labor. That means in a real way it took away private ownership of slaves and left open government operated slavery.
Our form of government has as a foundation protection from the government.
For Americans it isn’t supposed to be what the people are allowed to do it’s supposed to be all about restricting the government. If the government is allowed to put people in jail and the government is allowed to force those people to work then the government by default is a legal slave holder. Our form of government was mean to maintain a weak government for the future. We’ve allowed it to get stronger. Imagine a day when it changes its moral values. Imagine a day when America is more socialist and the government decides that prisoners should work on farms, factories, and wherever else they wish. Imagine a day when the government decides new crimes, new reasons for prison, new ways in fact to get more slaves. Don’t make the mistake of thinking just because this is is something to be imagined that it’s something extraordinary. It could happen even in America.