Past Event

Amend the 13th: A Conversation about Ending Legalized Slavery in the United States and Abolishing the Prison System As We Know It

February 22, 2019
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM
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The Forum at Columbia University, 605 W. 125th St., New York, NY 10027 Auditorium

AMEND THE 13TH is a national call for fresh thinking about criminal law and policy which places at its center the violence, degradation, trauma and dehumanization inflicted on communities that are targeted by our “criminal injustice system.” Now is the time for those who believe in democratic justice and full citizenship for all Americans to demand that the 13th Amendment’s Punishment Clause be removed from the U.S. Constitution.

The Office of Government and Community Affairs would like to thank our co-sponsors and collaborators for supporting and underwriting an awesome beginning event to Amend the 13th. We would also like to thank our community, stakeholders and beyond for their robust response and attendance at this initial educational outreach for the Amend the 13th campaign. A video of the event, including presentations can be found above. Below you will find our recommended reading list, original event details and related information. 

We hope you will share this information with others that are interested. Visit our Criminal Justice Change page to learn more about related efforts throughout Columbia University. If you would like to get more involved, please contact Flores A. Forbes, AVP Strategic Policy & Program Implementation

Further Reading

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010)

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas Blackmon (2008)

Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty by John B. Boles (2017)

Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration from the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary by Dennis Childs (2015)

Crime and Racial Constructions: Cultural Misinformation about African Americans in Media and Academia by Jeanette Covington (2010)

Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 by W.E.B. Du Bois (1935)

Invisible Men: A Contemporary Slave Narrative in the Era of Mass Incarceration by Flores A. Forbes (2016)

“Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf (2016)

Reforming Punishment: Psychological Limits to the Pains of Imprisonment by Craig Haney (2006)

Search and Destroy: African American Males in the Criminal Justice System by Jerome G. Miller (1996)

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Khalil Gilbran Muhammad (2010)

Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David M. Oshinsky (2008)

Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration by Devah Pager (2007)

Punishment and Inequality in America by Bruce Western (2006)

Jefferson: Writings, Autobiography, Notes on the State of Virginia, Public and Private Papers, Addresses, Letters Ed. by Merrill Peterson (1984)

“From Slavery to Prisons: A Historical Delineation of the Criminalization of African Americans” by Deborah Burris-Kitchen and Paul Burris in the Journal of Global Intelligence and Policy (2011)

“From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Rethinking the “Race Question” in the US” by Loic Wacquant in New Left Review (2002)

“Class, Race and Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America” by Loic Wacquant in Daedalus (2010)

Original Event Details

The 13th Amendment, laws emerging from its ratification (namely the Black Codes), and the resultant social order have been used as tools to enforce discrimination based on class, race, place, and gender. It is clear that there is a relationship between justice matters and racial constructions about White superiority and Black inferiority, and that this relationship fuels the exploitation and disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown bodies. Moreover, the relationship limits the enjoyment of all the rights and attributes of citizenship by people of color in general and formerly incarcerated people in particular. 

Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc. and faculty and staff at Columbia University, in coalition with other organizations and individuals, held a panel discussion with experts to begin the conversation about this process for criminal justice change. The goal of the dialogue was to develop strategies that will increase public awareness, fuel public discourse, and build momentum to amend the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. 



Flores A. Forbes, Associate Vice President Strategic Policy and Program Implementation in the Office of Government & Community Affairs at Columbia University, began the discussion with remarks from his 2016 book Invisible Men: A Contemporary Slave Narrative in the Era of Mass Incarceration, which discusses the 13th Amendment, Black Men returning to society after prison and the framing of the exception clause by Thomas Jefferson. (He is formerly incarcerated.)



Sheena Wright, President and CEO United Way of New York City is a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School. She expanded on the United Way literacy campaign and the historical connection of literacy to slavery, emancipation and the contemporary carceral state.



Kendall Thomas is the Nash Professor of Law and the Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University. As one of the originators of this campaign and a constitutional scholar, he discussed the exception clause itself as well as the process of amending the 13th Amendment.



Mika’il DeVeaux, Ph.D., is the founder of Citizens Against Recidivism and a lecturer at Nassau Community College (SUNY). He served 25 years in prison and since his release in 2003 has dedicated his research and activism to helping the formerly incarcerated, with a major focus on amending the exception clause of the 13th Amendment.



  • Citizens Against Recidivism
  • United Way of New York City
  • Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion
  • Office of University Life
  • The Center for Justice at Columbia University
  • Institute for Research in African-American Studies
  • The Center for the Study of Law and Culture
  • The Forum at Columbia University
  • School of International and Public Affairs Diversity Committee

Contact Information

The Office of Government and Community Affairs