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Press Release: Involuntary servitude claims against Polis Administration allowed to proceed

News Forced Labor and Trafficking

Denver, Colorado – Yesterday, people currently incarcerated in Colorado won a major legal battle when a Denver District Court judge refused to dismiss a legal challenge that alleges Governor Polis and the Department of Corrections illegally coerces labor from people who are incarcerated in the state.

In 2018, through the passage of Amendment A, Colorado became the first state since the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances, even for those who have been sentenced for a crime. Voters in five states will soon decide whether to eliminate similar loopholes in state constitutions that have allowed for forced labor in prisons.

“The purpose of Amendment A was to remove all exceptions to Colorado’s prohibition on involuntary servitude,” wrote Judge Alex C. Myers. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs’ allegations that people incarcerated in Colorado are threatened with physical restraint, including practices like solitary confinement if they do not comply with mandatory prison work programs, are sufficient to establish plausible claims of constitutional violations against the Governor, Dean Williams, the Executive Director of the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Corrections. Now, the plaintiffs will have an opportunity to obtain discovery from the state about its policies and practices.

“We are proud of the courage of our clients who are standing up for their constitutional right to be free from involuntary servitude. They aren’t saying that incarcerated people can’t work or shouldn’t work or that they don’t want to work. They are saying that they should be free from forced work,” said Valerie Collins, attorney at Towards Justice. “The fact someone is incarcerated does not mean the state gets to treat them like a slave. We are looking forward to continuing to litigate on their behalf and learning more about the ways the state may be coercing labor from the people it incarcerates.”

“The so-called penal exemption is a racist stain in our federal constitution. Colorado voters were right to eliminate it from our state constitution,” said Kym Ray, a community organizer for Together Colorado and member of the Amendment A Coalition. “Now, the fight is to ensure that the basic right to be free from involuntary servitude is real in the lives of everyone in Colorado.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Towards Justice and David Maxted of Maxted Law LLC.

Contact: Valerie Collins, (720) 295-1672, valerie@towardsjustice.org