Proposal 2 advocate calls incarceration “the new slavery”

sign in Montpelier

By Guy Page

Proposal 2/Article 1, the anti-slavery amendment to the Vermont Constitution on tomorrow’s General Election ballot, is supported by criminal justice reform advocates who liken present-day incarceration to slavery. 

This fact may surprise Vermonters who have only heard Proposal 2 (see screen shot for text as it appears on ballot) discussed as an effort to expunge the stain of slavery from the Vermont Constitution by specifically prohibiting indentured servitude, an early American practice in which businesses paid immigrants’ passage to America and then required them to work for several years. 

Long after the Vermont Constitution banned slavery, the United States followed suit with the 13th Amendment: “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.”

It’s that ‘except’ loophole that bothers systemic racial injustice advocates like Rev. Mark Hughes, a retired U.S. Army officer and Executive Director of Justice For All and Coordinator of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. Far from banning slavery, the 13th Amendment “constitutionalized” it by allowing incarceration. Blacks have been suffering disproportionately from this new form of slavery ever since, mass incarceration critics like Hughes say. 

On May 9, 2019, Hughes testified in support of Proposal 2 raised the problem in testimony before the House Government Operations Committee of the Vermont Legislature:

“You have heard testimony that the US constitution [13th Amendment] makes the language of slavery in our constitution “academic” and it suggests that it has “no practical consequence”. But we have come to know that the 13th amendment constitutionalized slavery for the punishment of a crime, when duly convicted. 

Mark Hughes. Photo credit Rutland NAACP

“Vermont State laws permit “Imprisonment In Lieu Of Payment of Fines And Costs”. Article I of the Vermont constitution provides an exception that permits slavery when “bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like”. Collectively, this is the literal criminalization of poverty, the new slavery!”

Ever since the Legislature gave final approval to Prop 2, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has been promoting its passage by voters tomorrow on Election Day. Like Prop 5/Article 22, ratification into the Vermont Constitution requires a simple majority of statewide voters.

Far from congratulating Vermont for outlawing slavery, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance says the Vermont Constitution actually led the way in empowering it – with its ‘indentured servitude’ clause. 

“While Vermonters and the nation have been taught for generations that the state was the first to abolish slavery we now know that that no state constitutionally permitted slavery before Vermont,” the VRJA website says. “Exception clauses of 25 other state constitutions and Thirteenth Amendment have been informed by the exception clauses in the Vermont Constitution, leading to the introduction of convict leasing in the US.”

The data show that blacks are indeed incarcerated in Vermont prisons at a far higher rate than whites. The most recent (September 21, 2022) Vermont Department of Corrections data shows that 10.6% of the 1,321 convicts are black. According to July 1, 2021 U.S. Census data, 1.5% of Vermonters are black.

But there is significant disagreement on why. Some mass incarceration critics blame poverty and racist laws, practice and individuals in the criminal justice system. Defenders of the Vermont criminal justice system say blacks make up a disproportionate number of drug dealers and perpetrators of violent, gun-related crimes. Still others say ‘both.’

Why haven’t we heard about this?

Hughes has been direct in testimony and public statements about the link between Prop 2 and reducing mass incarceration – i.e. “the new slavery.” His organization is listed on the lawn signs supporting Prop 2. If anyone is hiding a controversial policy goal behind the unimpeachably righteous cloak of anti-slavery, it’s not Mark Hughes. 

Vermont Daily Chronicle readers haven’t read about it because, until last week, we thought it was just a ho-hum housekeeping initiative. Who would oppose repealing slavery? 

Certainly no-one in the Vermont press has highlighted Prop 2 as a means to the end of reducing mass incarceration. For example, see reports by WCAX and There had been a few media mumbles about how it might require the Dept. of Corrections to pay inmate labor more than pennies an hour. 

Advocacy groups (except Hughes’) were equally mum. A lengthy statement of support of Proposal 2 by the VT ACLU – a big opponent of mass incarceration – nowhere mentions mass incarceration. To the ACLU, a vote for Proposal 2 is a vote for Vermont values: “Vermont prides itself on values of freedom, liberty, justice, unity, and equality for all. By voting yes on Proposal 2, you can help bring our state one step closer to upholding those values.”

Then on October 29, a reader named Peter emailed this question: “Guy, could you please tell me in a sentence or two what the h— this pile of gobbledy gook called Article 1 is supposed to mean? No one I know, including myself can make any sense at all of this. I am suspecting it is some sort of radical left wing crap that someone is trying to ram through. Can you just tell me what a nay or yay vote will result in achieving?”

Which got us thinking. And surfing the internet. Turns out four other states have similar referenda. And in some of those states, opposition to mass incarceration is front and center. 

We returned to the Vermont legislative record. PR2 passed the House in 2020 for the first time (every amendment must pass two successive legislatures). Its passage was noted with these words by then House Speaker Mitzi Johnson:

“As we work to ensure that all Vermonters are treated equally and fairly, it is crucial that we amend the archaic language of the Constitution to emphasize that slavery and indentured servitude in any form and for persons of any age are prohibited. People of all races and genders who live, work, and visit Vermont should feel welcomed and safe.” 

Johnson didn’t mention policy applications, including impact on mass incarceration. Her statement set the tone for others made by lawmakers of both parties at the time – it was all about fixing the 18th century Constitution’s archaic language in the about slavery and indentured servitude. Consider these on-the-record explanations of ‘yes’ votes by two Democratic Windsor County lawmakers:

“Madam Speaker: I am humbled to be able to vote yes, and I dedicate my vote to Dinah Mason, a human sold as property to Vermont Supreme Court Justice Stephen Jacob, of Windsor, Vermont, in 1783,” Rep. Elizabeth Burrows of West Windsor said.

Rep. Kevin Christie of Hartford (who is black) explained his vote as follows: “Madam Speaker: With a tear in my eye. My vote is clearly stated in the lyrics of our State Song. ʽThese Green Hills and silver waters are my home they belong to me and to ALL her sons and daughters may they be strong and forever free.ʼ”

In the 2020 Legislature, Prop 2 passed the House unanimously. But in 2021, three Republicans voted no: Rob Laclair, Brian Smith (R-Derby), and Larry Labor (R-Morgan). Laclair said yesterday he voted no because it was becoming clear to him, during committee testimony, that prison reform was somehow lurking in the background.

LaClair, a Barre Town rep not running for re-election, said a yes vote will encourage Hughes and other like-minded criminal justice reformers. “It will unfortunately give them a well-deserved victory lap,” he said.

Smith voted no because the Constitution is fine the way it is, including its language about slavery, he told VDC in an email yesterday:

“I believe that the State of Vermont abolished slavery sometime around 1777. Then President Lincoln did as well in 1865…I could be off on the year. I don’t believe that anyone in Vermont has slaves today! Should this pass, what will be next? Minimum wage for incarcerated people? Young kids working on the farm? Or migrant farm workers (illegal or not). The Constitution is good just the way it is. We in Vermont’s Legislature should get back to the real business at hand……less spending, taking care of the state employees pension fund and making sure that our seniors have a quality of life they deserve.”

VDC only discovered the Hughes testimony on the Vermont Legislature website on Saturday. It is hoped that Vermonters reading this news article may have a more well-rounded perspective of the issues surrounding PR2’s adoption by the Legislature, and what ratification tomorrow might (or might not) mean for Vermont criminal justice reform. 

Categories: Legislation

21 replies »

  1. Criminals have enslaved THEMSELVES.

    Remember: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the time”.

    The RULE OF LAW stands. Not criminality.

  2. Proposal 2 advocate calls incarceration “the new slavery.”

    That statement is why I voted against it. Leftists, of whom we have plenty in this state, will try to use it to open up the jails. Leftists, of whom we have too many, in the justice system and legislature, will agree and we will end up with no bail laws.

    • I’m conflicted. I was once incarcerated in N.J. on ridiculous charges of attempted murder. My disability was abused and I became ill. I was bailed out after 3 days. The evidence against me was thin and absurd. I was coerced into pleading guilty to “violating a noise ordinance”. Yes, really.
      In reality, other than Civil Disobedience, I’ve been boringly law abiding.
      On the other hand, the “Movement” in VT wants to abolish all imprisonment, as I was told and my researches and sources confirmed. This is a step in that direction.

      • Scott you really gotta lay of of Marina dude, you know all of this is being recorded right?

  3. Thank you Guy. Many of us suspected that there was something fishy about it-for many reasons, but didn’t know why until now. Another example of why the majority of our Legislators cannot be trusted. Sad commentary. A good example why I hate early voting.

  4. I still don’t see how legal enforcement of alimony & spousal / child support don’t amount to at least some form of indentured servitude. “Not in ANY form,” it says. Pretty broad brush. Guess we’ll find out.

  5. OMG! Mark Hughes is now a Reverend, this guy is nothing but an agitator for all things but mostly for his self promotion. Remember him from Burlington as a social justice warrior aligned with the Racial Justice Alliance and I think he was on the civilian police board. He used to hang our in Montpelier but found bigger fish to fry fry by attaching himself to Burlington. He believes that he can benefit personally from racial division. He has tried numerous non-profits and has even registered a few corporations with the SOS. He is also a professional gadfly. It figures that he would find a way to get on this new deception from the lefties. He’s always searching for that racial angle he can profit from.

  6. Don’t worry Soros George and her libtard prosecutors will close all prisons before long, problem solved

  7. Does it matter? We have so many catch and release people on the streets already. It must make our law enforcement agencies cringe – all their efforts up in smoke. We all should be cringing. Our nation has had a core of law and order, justice for all embedded in it. This will just make it a might makes right country and go ahead steal someone else’s catalytic converter and think nothing of it. If they don’t like it – shoot them. No one to stop you. When will Vermonter’s wake up, speak out, and say enough of these foolish CCP agendas strolling and stream rolling through our midst?

  8. Can we afford to just open our doors to those who want to rob us? No. Can we decriminalize murderers, thieves, pedophiles, sex traffickers, and human traffickers. No.
    You only incur more criminal activity if you don’t punish the criminals. You can see this happening in large cities across the U.S. Vote No on article 2. Go back to Hungary George Soros—they probably don’t want you there either but you are no longer welcome here. We welcome refugees here but they have to love this country and will pledge allegiance to her—-your actions prove you hate this country and you have failed her. We don’t want what CCP is selling. Vote No on article 2.

  9. We abolished slavery a long time ago. This bill is misleading (imagine that!) Jail is supposed to suck. Thats the point. You dont want to go so you wont brake laws. Jail sucking is a detourant. And if i were incarcerated, id be thrilled to spend my time working as opposed to stairing at a wall, even if for free. You do you. Im voting no.

  10. First, if Mark Hughes declares he is a reverend, he declares to serve God only, to live by the Word, spread the Word, and follows the instruction of Jesus Christ as written in Matthew 23:8-11. If he is not following the Word of God, he is following the orders of man. God will judge him accordingly. He must repent immediately. The proposal, as written, is another flim-flam trick that is the work of the devil – the father of lies. The people who spread and instigate such deception upon the populace are playing a game that cannot be won. The universe belongs to God, the United States has a covenant with God, and the more these people attempt to defeat God…God will answer. God is exposing them all for what they truly are and what they have done.

  11. Perhaps someone may have missed the point in our history called the Civil War. Now we get a chance to do it again just in case it was missed?

    As far as the new slavery being incarceration….hold that thought the next time you are being accosted by an un-incarcerated felon on the safe streets of Burlington when his rehab did not quite take .

  12. The poll worker told me it was just updating language to be “more inclusive.”
    I figured it was a trick question.

  13. I also voted no on this change to the Vermont Construction, as slavery doesn’t exist anymore, except as a political tool to seize power. The neo-marxist leftists have redefined language, such as education and democracy. I understood very clearly that changing the language definitely slavery was tied to a Social Justice agenda. The only indentured servants will be the ones working and paying taxes to support those oppressed under the political voice of Social Justice. You have noticed that white people, especially conservatives and other law abiding citizens are being dragged into hearings and courts for any and all reasons, and then fined and or imprisoned, while violent criminals are allowed to roam free. They are inverting all social norms. What’s next is Equity imposed via digital currency. Biden signed the executive order some time ago. The executive order clearly states that the new financial system needs to address equity and human rights. I recently reviewed a USAID document that defined equity as the redistribution of resources human, institutional and financial to eliminate unequal outcomes. This is socialism by definition and is tied to the UN, WEF, World Bank, and Agenda 2030.

  14. Thank you Guy for pointing this out. Please view the League of Women Voters forum I did with Charity Clark. At about the 1:06:10 mark she specifically mentions “incarcerated” individuals. Unfortunately the forum on Youtube got less than 30 views. Michael Tagliavia, Republican candidate for Attorney General.

  15. Amendment XIII of the US constitution already bans INvoluntary servitude. The supreme law of the land says you can voluntarily enter into in-servitude contracts or not. I’m not sure what the point was in removing that voluntarily bound language. So I proudly voted no like 10% of Vermont voters.

  16. Notice that I’m being threatened by “notinmybackyard”. No “Reply” command is posted. Of course this is being recorded. I’m whistleblowing on the treacherous and dangerous Marina Brown, Laura Potter, and “Green Mountain Peace and Justice Party”. Brown knew better than to pull me into violent Marxist activity. I was exploited.
    My apartment has been entered several times during my absence.
    Laurelai Bailey, an associate of Brown and Potter, is a serial “snitch” who has instigated criminal activity and then turned State’s Evidence. As I recall, they all took part in Liberty Union Party(now Green Mountain Peace and Justice Party) meetings.
    Now people have been calling the authorities reporting me as dangerously mentally ill and needing intervention for my own good.
    Marina Brown has refused to settle this, except through threats and harassment. An associate of mine recently Forwarded an email in which Brown admits a refusal to debate as it would make Brown “uncomfortable”. I was duped. I’m now out of the cult and whistleblowing.
    Please recall the violent attack on Fred Sargeant in Burlington. All of this is interconnected. These aren’t mere spontaneous outbursts on the part of a few extreme elements.
    The one thing they haven’t done is to actually refute a SINGLE fact. If we abolish jails, prisons, etc., violent criminals will join the ranks of the left’s Brownshirts, along with Antifa and TRA.
    Concerning so many incarcerated Black people, this would be an indication of drug gangs now operating in VT. I heard of such activity as far back as 5 1/2 years ago. A woman claimed to have been targeted because her husband had been connected and they moved to VT to get away. She was targeted here.

    • I am happy to do mediation with you. I had the lawyer contact you to settle this amicably and you were the one who refused.

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