Proposed constitutional amendment would ban hard labor

By Tim Page and Guy Page

A proposed resolution introduced to the Senate on March 14 would repeal the section of the State Constitution calling for criminals to be punished at hard labor.

PR.2 would “amend the Constitution of the State of Vermont to repeal the section calling for criminals to be punished at hard labor. Guidelines for the proper treatment of justice-involved individuals can, and should, continue to evolve; such methods should not be enshrined in a state’s constitution.”

The bill was lead-sponsored by Sen. Rebecca White (D-White River Junction) and referred to the Judiciary Committee. The other sponsor is Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky (P-Chittenden). 

The introduction to S.2 explains that “since 1777, attitudes toward incarceration and the treatment of justice involved individuals have changed considerably. The idea that the commission of crimes is effectively deterred ‘by continued visible punishments of long duration’ is outmoded….Guidelines for the proper treatment of justice-involved individuals can, and should, continue to evolve; such methods should not be enshrined in a state’s constitution.”

The amendment would repeal the following language: “To deter more effectually from the commission of crimes, by continued visible punishments of long duration, and to make sanguinary punishments less necessary, means ought to be provided for punishing by hard labor, those who shall be convicted of crimes not capital, whereby the criminal shall be employed for the benefit of the public, or for the reparation of injuries done to private persons: and all persons at proper times ought to be permitted to see them at their labor.”

At present, inmate participation in the Vermont Offender Work Program is voluntary. Pay is very low – as of 2005 workers were paid 25 cents an hour. Work includes assisting in operation of the prison facility, participating in prison-run industries, and working off-site on projects like construction at a Winooski school site.

Amendments to the Vermont Constitution must be approved by both houses of two successive Legislatures (2023-24, 2025-26) and then ratified by a statewide vote at the general election. 

The proposed amendment appears to be a follow-up to the amendment approved by voters last November removing language about slavery and indentured servitude from the Constitution. Backers of the amendment included ‘decarceration’ advocates who oppose mass incarceration as a criminal justice measure. 

Categories: Legislation

14 replies »

  1. I guess that Exodus 21:23–27 (an eye for an eye) is out of fashion. Pity, as I think actions should have equally detrimental consequences.

  2. Hell, let’s just abolish any labor for everyone. Then the benevolent state can pay us all—criminals included—an equal salary, because we’re all equally non-productive. Just don’t ask any more questions….

  3. Doesn’t Montpelier have better things to do then adding useless unnecessary things to the state constitution?

  4. Yes, I am sure we will have less crime if we turn prison into Club Med. Maybe they need their own rooms with their own set of keys so prisoners can sleep with the all the female guards, as recently made the news in the UK. That’ll learn ‘em.

    As I’ve said before, anarcho-tyranny is 5% intentional political malice and 95% emotional hysteria. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which category Rebecca and Tanya belong to, but I’m assuming the latter. The end result is all the same in any case… more crime, and a more authoritarian government.

  5. Pretty sure the only Vermonters engaged in hard labor are those who actually work for a living, however incarcerated persons in Vermont V-O-T-E. More votes for these dems!

    And if being a felon doesn’t alter your voter status in Vermont, why should it alter ANYTHING? Next it will be inground pools, saunas, and an all-organic gourmet menu in the chow hall. Right, Senator Sanders?

  6. An aversion to labor is the reason they are criminals in the first place.

  7. What about the chance this labor provides for inmates to earn money?
    Or should they be paid money for having been convicted of criminal activity?

  8. They oppose “mass incarceration”. That would leave the populace open to the whim of violent criminals, which is the intention.

  9. …”Guidelines for the proper treatment of justice-involved individuals can, and should, continue to evolve; such methods should not be enshrined in a state’s constitution.” but it’s ok to “enshrine” abortions in our state constitution

  10. Who is tired of this crazy Marxist garbage?

    When does it stop? These people want to change everything. Not until these crazy Marxist idiots completely and totally abolish our Vermont Constitution. This is ridiculous.

    To Phil Scott, and the RINO republicans, are you people going to finally join me and the Constitutional Conservativs around our great State and get off your ass and start fighting back against these lunatics with us! If not, you are part of the problems!

    We must keep taking this Leftist filth ideas to the people and fight back aggressively, we need to stop talking to the 300/400 peoplevand get out in to the trenches and talk to every Vermonter to educate them how the Marxist/Progressives are killing Vermont!

  11. What would leftist ne’er-do-wells in the Legislature know about hard labor?

  12. When the anti abortion amendment passed, several writers predicted the amendment would be used to outlaw “involuntary servitude” suffered by criminals. They were almost right. Looks as if the usual wing nuts in the Vermont General Assembly are saying, “Fooled ’em once, We’ll fool ’em again.” They are going for another amendment. Hope they don’t get around to disposing of old people.

  13. They will use the work-around that the Federal prisons do: assign everyone a job…which they get put into isolation for not doing. There are literally people in wheelchairs, paralyzed below the waist, who are assigned even snow removal jobs. Don’t worry, it’s not “hard labor” or “slavery”: it’s just ensuring that everyone has paid work…at 12 cents per hour. And about those paralytics: well, we don’t want to deprive them of work, because that wouldn’t be equitable.

    Really, what it boils down to is the legislature creating new problems just to have something to justify their re-elections, even if it retreads old ground. Even things that SEEM like a conservative victory, like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, are simply used to galvanize the far Left and set them into greater action.

    • Mr. Page, I’m curious as to which federal institution uses paraplegic inmates for snow removal. It sounds like a good 8th Amendment claim, and no warden wants to be responsible for a successful inmate action against the prison. While there are always sadists in the system, reward is a better motivator than punishment. The snow removal crews at Ray Brook near Lake Placid got special privileges, and the snow got removed. Slave labor at Windsor State Prison got the Supreme Court’s stationery printed upside down. As for the legislature, let’s hope it stays part time.

      For those really interested in crime and punishment, I’ll point to the 50 year war on drugs with the result of more people in jail and more drugs, cheaper and more powerful than ever. Rutland has had a 20-plus-year severe opiate problem, and virtually everyone knows a junkie. Yet people keep signing up for the addiction. Answer the question of “why” and you’ll solve at least 50% of the crime problem.