Vera Institute of Justice on Abolition Amendment


June 14, 2023

Contact: Michael Czaczkes,

(Washington, D.C.) Today, Congressmember Nikema Williams, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senator Cory Booker reintroduced the Abolition Amendment (SJR 33 / HJR 72), which would strike the clause in the 13th Amendment allowing slavery and involuntary servitude “as punishment for a crime.” Sean Kyler, operations manager for the Advocacy and Partnerships department at the Vera Institute of Justice, issued the following statement:

We are grateful to Congressmember Williams and Senators Merkley and Booker for reintroducing this amendment, which would have life-changing consequences for more than a million people behind bars today.

When crafting and ratifying the 13th Amendment to end chattel slavery, Congress included 14 words that have inflicted nearly 160 years of harm: “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Across the country, this exception has enabled a wildly profitable system in which incarcerated people endure forced labor under threat of punishment, often in dangerous conditions—a system akin to modern-day slavery.

Though several states have abolished this practice, justice requires action on a national level. Congress began ending slavery in 1865; today, it must finish the job.


About the Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit