Five states are voting this November on whether to get rid of language in their state constitutions that allow for a different kind of slavery — punishment toward prisoners.
Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon and Vermont are among nearly 20 states that still have this language in their constitutions. The vote to remove it is a national push to change the 13th Amendment that banned slavery, except as a form of criminal punishment, per The Associated Press.
Since slavery was outlawed in 1865 in the United States, several advocates have urged for a change to the law and to make working in prison voluntary, according to Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Washington Post reports that, if passed, the proposal would change prison labor and inmate compensation protocols. Prison labor has faced scrutiny for decades for its racist roots, the disproportionate number of imprisoned Black people, the low wages and the punishment for those who have refused to work.
It’s also been debated if removing the exception would be more symbolic or if it actually would lead to significant changes. However, many believe that the symbolism is just as important, due to the history of prison labor, according to Stateline.
The exception in the amendment allowed for authorities in the 19th century to imprison Black people for minuscule crimes and force them into labor.
“If this amendment passes, then the incentive to incarcerate Black people will no longer exist,” a former inmate told Stateline.