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Since its launch on January 17, 2022, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the activist group working under the title #FixThe13thNY has been fighting the carceral prison state within New York, attempting to "abolish the 13th amendment loophole" and create better working conditions for incarcerated workers.
The campaign is organized through Next100, a New York City-based public policy start-up think tank that describes itself as “working to change the face and future of progressive policy.”
Vidal Guzman, a policy entrepreneur at Next100 and one of the leaders of #FixThe13thNY, sat down with Honeysuckle to discuss the tenets of the groups’ multifaceted campaign and what #FixThe13thNY plans to do moving forward.
Watch Honeysuckle's interview with Vidal Guzman of #FixThe13thNY:
Much of Vidal Guzman’s passion driving his work into fighting the carceral state comes from his own experience as a formerly incarcerated person. During his time not only enduring forced labor but also the harmful work conditions described by the campaign, Guzman realized that something needed to change about the prison system.
Now, he’s putting that realization and passion into his advocacy and activism.
What Is #FixThe13thNY And The 13th Amendment?
Passed in 1865, the U.S. Constitution's 13th Amendment abolished slavery, however, forced labor remained and continues to remain legal as punishment for a crime under the same amendment: that is the infamous 13th Amendment Loophole. As the fact sheet explains, “This amendment, which ostensibly was meant to end slavery, just reformed and perpetuated it. Even after the 13th Amendment abolished enslavement, racially discriminatory practices, like the post-Reconstruction Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws, along with state-sanctioned labor practices like convict leasing, continued to force many Black Americans into involuntary labor for decades.”
According to Guzman, #FixThe13thNY’s highest priority is to readjust the policies and mechanisms of New York’s prison system. The group advocates for abolishing forced labor within prisons, raising the wages of incarcerated workers, allowing more room for rehabilitation and skills-training, and an overall improved environment that better prepares incarcerated people to reenter society.
The #FixThe13thNY official informational fact sheet goes in-depth about the campaign’s ideology and methodology, providing context about the 13th Amendment Loophole, how it will affect incarcerated workers, and how the group plans on continuing the fight.
How Has The 13th Amendment Loophole Materially Affected New York?
According to the campaign’s fact sheet, “30,803 people are currently incarcerated, and are disproportionately Black and Latinx. Black New Yorkers make up 18 percent of state residents, but 50 percent of those incarcerated. Latinx individuals make up 22 percent of the incarcerated population.”
Despite producing “upwards of $53 million a year in revenue for the state,” those incarcerated are forced to work, on average, for 65 cents an hour without federal or state employment protections; neither overtime pay, paid sick leave, nor the right to unionize are respected or protected.
#FixThe13thNY’s Goal? Closing The 13th Amendment Loophole
To accomplish #FixThe13NY’s goal, the campaign is pressuring the New York State Senate and State Assembly to pass legislation that will prohibit incarcerated people from being forced to work against their will.
The legislation should also include, according to the organization, raising the wages of incarcerated people to New York state’s minimum wage, increased access to meaningful training opportunities and the ability to pursue whichever opportunity they prefer, and overall general improvements to the working conditions.
In doing so, #FixThe13thNY works to end human exploitation and abolish the loophole left in the 13th Amendment. The campaign intends to “eliminate slave labor in [NY] state, increase wages for the incarcerated, and reject a penal labor system that allows for profiting off of human exploitation detainees.”
What’s Next For #FixThe13thNY?
In summer 2022 Next100 released their inclusive policy toolkit for think tanks, policy nonprofits and governments that includes recommendations and advice to create policy that works best for the impacted communities. The organization frequently hosts Instagram Lives featuring different professionals in the policy-making field; for more information, visit their Instagram @the_next100.
#FixThe13thNY continues to go strong, running a campaign with the anti-slavery organization Freedom United to raise funds for the cause of abolishing the prison-as-slavery setup of the prison-industrial complex. Most recently, the group began conducting a public survey calling for individuals who have been incarcerated in New York and their loved ones to share their experiences with the system. You can take the survey here if you have been incarcerated, or visit this page for more information if you haven't.
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Featured image: Vidal Guzman, Policy Entrepreneur at Next100 and one of the leaders of #FixThe13thNY (C) Bridget Badore, courtesy of #FixThe13thNY / Next100