New Policy Brief Examines the Impacts of Compulsory Prison Labor Ballot Initiatives on Pregnant & Postpartum Incarcerated Women of Color

The Center for Gender & Sexuality Law’s Racial Justice Project released a new policy brief on the impacts of compulsory prison labor ballot initiatives on pregnant & postpartum incarcerated women of color.

Read their full release below.


Today, the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law’s Racial Justice Project is releasing a policy brief entitled, “The Impacts of Compulsory Prison Labor Ballot Initiatives on Pregnant & Postpartum Incarcerated Women of Color.

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution purported to abolish the institution of slavery, but it created an exemption for compulsory labor performed by people convicted of crimes. This November, voters in Alabama, Vermont, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Oregon will be asked to vote on ballot initiatives that may strike 13th Amendment-like language from their state constitutions, which currently allow states to force incarcerated people to perform labor with minimal or no pay.

This policy brief examines the legal language of each measure and reveals that only some state measures would actually eliminate the exemption.  Most strikingly, Louisiana’s measure could have the opposite effect: expanding the scope of the state’s ability to compel forced labor from people in the criminal justice system. The paper presents a gendered analysis of compulsory prison labor by focusing on the reality that pregnant people are more likely to encounter a particular form of compulsory prison labor: being forced to perform work assignments during pregnancy and immediately after giving birth. Please note that many people are able to become pregnant, not just those who identify as women. However, given that the overwhelming majority of people who are pregnant or birthing are women, these policies have a particularly significant gendered impact.

The policy brief also includes interviews with experts who agree that performing compulsory work assignments without proper accommodations while pregnant or postpartum can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes, including death.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this policy paper does not urge the public to vote in any particular way on these amendments, but rather seeks to inform voters of the measures’ meaning and impact.

Download the Policy Brief here.