essex commissioners voice support for removal of the punishment clause from the u.s. constitution

(Newark, NJ) – On Wednesday evening, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution calling upon the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to pass a joint resolution removing the Punishment Clause from the U.S. Constitution. The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner President Wayne Richardson and Commissioner Patricia Sebold.

The Punishment Clause is a section of the 13th Amendment that adds an exception to the prohibition of slavery and indentured servitude for incarcerated persons. The amendment reads, with the Punishment Clause highlighted: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

“Many resolutions are approved by this body each month, and while they are all important, some stand out because they speak to the essence of our democracy. Resolution #54 is such a resolution,” said Wayne L. Richardson, Essex County Commissioner President. “By supporting this amendment, the commissioners of Essex County say loudly and succinctly that slavery, in any form, has no place in the 21st century.  We recognize that the Punishment Clause in the 13th Amendment, which permits any person in the United States who has been convicted of a crime to be enslaved, is draconian and flies in the face of best practices of a judicial system that should aim to educate, rehabilitate, and reintegrate all but the incorrigible back into society.”

"As long as the 13th amendment continues to permit forced unpaid labor for incarcerated people, slavery will continue in our country, disproportionately harming people of color," said Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), who testified in support. "This resolution is a powerful declaration that Essex County stands for the absolute abolition of slavery and for the dignity of all people."

“NAACP Newark applauds the unanimous vote by the Essex County Commissioners to call for deletion of the punitive clause in the 13th Amendment that upholds slavery for citizens who have been convicted of a crime. There must be an abolishment of this abomination," said Deborah Smith Gregory, NAACP Newark President, who testified in support of the resolution.

“Amending the Constitution of the United States is a big deal, an arduous task, and is not to be taken lightly,” continued President Richardson. “It is, however, the way that our democracy responds to our ever-increasing understanding of the value of human rights. I thank my fellow commissioners for joining in calling upon the United States Senate and House of Representatives to pass the Joint Resolutions as expeditiously as possible to ensure that the proposed resolution be submitted to each of the 50 States for ratification.”

Legislation to remove the Punishment Clause from the US Constitution was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives in June of this year, but no other action has been taken since. The co-sponsors of the bills, SJR 33 and HJR 72, include New Jersey’s Senator Cory Booker and Representative Mikie Sherrill, who represents portions of Essex County.

The resolution can be read here. A recording of the Essex County Board of County Commissioners meeting where this resolution was passed can be viewed here.


Photo caption - L to R: Comm’r VP Carlos Pomares, Comm’r Patricia Sebold, Comm’r Leonard Luciano, NJISJ Dir. of Criminal Justice Reform Yannick Wood, Comm’r President Wayne Richardson, Comm’r Rufus Johnson, Newark NAACP President Deborah Smith Gregory, Comm’r Romaine Graham, Comm’r Brendan Gill.

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For Additional Information - Contact:
Adam Tucker, Public Information Officer
Essex County Board of County Commissioners
973-621-4452 (phone) 973-621-5695 (fax)
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Board of County Commissioners,
County of Essex
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