The Justice Center recently hosted a book talk and panel discussion on prisoners’ rights movements in Texas, past and present. The event featured Robert Chase, author of “We Are Not Slaves,” a history of the prisoners’ rights movement in Texas in the second half of the 20th century. Told from the vantage point of prisoners themselves, the book weaves together histories of labor, civil rights, and politics in the United States as it narrates the transition from prison plantations of the past to the mass incarceration of today.
Following Chase’s talk, Professor Michele Deitch (LBJ/Law) led a panel discussion with Chase and local advocates, Savannah Eldrige, lead organizer with the Abolish Slavery National Network, and Jorge Renaud, National Criminal Justice Director for Latino Justice. The discussion focused on current prison labor practices and the “end the exception” movement, which seeks to repeal language in the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude except for persons “duly convicted” of a crime.
“The Justice Center is pleased to have been able to shine a light on Professor Chase’s rigorous chronicling of some of the worst moments in Texas and U.S. history and to elevate the important work by advocates across the county to redress the dehumanizing and exploitive policies that emerged from this history and continue today,” said Helen Gaebler, Justice Center Senior Research Attorney, who organized the event.
The event was cosponsored by the LBJ School’s Prison and Jail Innovation Lab, the UT Austin Initiative for Law, Societies, and Justice, Law Students for Black Lives, the Public Defense Group, and the Public Interest Law Association.