Slavery in Utah? Yes, it’s still legal

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Did you know a form of slavery is still legal in Utah? It’s legal as a form of punishment and the NAACP Salt Lake Branch wants it removed.

“It’s something that should be done immediately,” Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch told ABC4 News.

Article I, Section 21 of the Utah Constitution reads that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within this State.”

Williams says the wording within the article needs to be changed.

“What they’re trying to get around is saying slavery is not OK but then saying ‘except.’ That right there is very troubling.”

This actually mirrors the language of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution prohibits slavery but contains a similar exemption for people convicted of crimes. 

ABC4’s Brittany Johnson asked Williams if the way Utah’s Constitution is worded now could mean that convicted criminals can be forced to work in prison without pay?

“You can’t say, ‘oh, unless, they committed a crime.’ Well, prison is not a form of slavery and it shouldn’t be a form of slavery,” answered Williams.

Williams says the first step in getting this removed from the state’s constitution is to raise awareness about the issue. After that, the NAACP will work with a state lawmakers to introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session to abolish slavery as a form of punishment.

The legislative session starts in January.

This is a story that ABC4’s Brittany Johnson has been digging into. She will continue to follow the story and the NAACP’s quest to get this amendment changed.

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