You Have the Right to Know About America’s Free Labor System


right tights; federal reserve seal located on front of us. currency

Thirteen percent of the US. population has a poverty rate that is almost 3 times that of the rest of the nation. Poverty is the modern-day vehicle for the system of free labor that dominated global trade for 400 years. Within our US. constitution lies one loophole that preserves this system of free labor. The 13th Amendment of the American Constitution declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The stipulation here lies in the word convicted. To be convicted of any alleged criminal act, a person either pleads guilty, (accepts a plea agreement), or pleads his case before a judge or jury, wherein they deliberate the outcome of the case. One key element stands between the judge or jury, and the outcome in any case. That is legal counsel.


The 5th amendment of the US. constitution states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” The language, “To have the assistance of counsel for his defense,” suggests that an American citizen has a fundamental right to the assistance of a lawyer that will work to defend him. However, often this fundamental right is not upheld. The Bureau of Justice reports, approximately ¾ of inmates in state prisons received publicly provided counsel on the cases in which they were convicted, and imprisoned. Further, in a 2003 Department of Justice study of 75,573 US. criminal cases, 95% were resolved by guilty plea. Essentially, only an estimated 3% – 4% of the total US criminal cases make it to trial.


Black citizens in America today account for nearly 50% of the prison population. In contrast, according to the US. Census Bureau the black population forms less than 15% of the nation, of which 27% live below the poverty level. The incarceration rate has steadily increased over the last four decades. The Bureau of Justice reports 1 in 3 black men will go to prison in their lifetime. This leads to a complete disruption in the family cycle and disintegrates the foundation necessary to build generational wealth. Men are confined to the greatest extent. According to a 2010 finding by the Bureau of Justice, men are incarcerated well over 10 times the rate of women. Families are impacted by the absence of a father figure and all that it represents. Fundamentally, communities of these broken families are left to fend for themselves, while men are utilized as free labor, medical experimentation, and further exploitation.


This cycle of poverty is built into the American justice system. Free labor is a utility of the prison structure. Conversely, those reintegrated into society struggle to find employment, once freed, due to restrictions built into the justice system, and enforced by society at large. The value of American citizens is diminished not from crimes they have committed, though this is a common misconception. They are undervalued based on a system that castigates those living in poverty. The current system that devalues human potential, undermines the United States’ capacity to solve world and domestic problems effectively. America is the richest, most powerful nation in the world, though it has yet to resolve to acknowledge and end its own biggest undermining problem, poverty.


United States Census Bureau. “Quick Facts, People”. []; Wagner, P. [08/28/2012]. Prison Policy Initiative. “Incarceration is not an Equal Opportunity Punishment”. []; Federal Safety Net. “US Poverty Statistics”.[]; US Department of Justice. “Research Summary, Plea and Charge Bargaining”. [].