In 2020, Utahns have the chance to end the injustice of slavery in our state once and for all. There will be a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November to remove the 144-year-old language that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.
In 2019, State Representative Sandra Hollins (House District 23) sponsored H.J.R.8, which proposed to amend Utah’s Constitution to change Article I, Section 21, the provision that prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. Both the Utah House and Senate passed it unanimously, setting it up for Utahns to vote for the amendment in 2020.
Removing this exception for slavery and involuntary servitude from Utah’s Constitution will not harm the State’s corrections system. This amendment would not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of any other aspect of the State’s criminal justice system. About half of all other states have no explicit mention of slavery in their constitutions. And states that have voted to remove similar language condoning slavery have not experienced negative impacts to their corrections systems.
By voting for this amendment, Utahns will signal that we no longer accept this immoral and outdated language to exist in our most important legal document. It also properly aligns our Constitutional language with the values of our citizens. Additionally, by removing slavery from Utah’s Constitution, we can continue a conversation to examine what our prison system really ought to be.
Article I, Section 21 of Utah’s Constitution reads:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within this State.”
Slavery is not a Utah value. It should not exist in any form. This outdated and immoral language that condones slavery and involuntary servitude has been in Utah’s Constitution since before statehood in 1895.
It is past time we remove it!
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