Colorado voters will soon cast their ballots on Amendment T and Amendment 71, measures that would end involuntary servitude in prisons and make it more difficult for citizens to amend the state constitution, respectively.
Amendment T proposes an end to an exception in the Colorado Constitution that allows convicted criminals to work in prison without pay or restitution.
This exception forms part of Article II, Section 26 of the constitution. The section reads, “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
Although slavery in Colorado was outlawed in 1877, the state constitution still includes this segment that allows incarcerated criminals to perform involuntary service, sometimes without compensation.
Work requirements for convicted criminals in the Colorado criminal justice system include that all offenders are required to work unless participating in an education or training program. Those who refuse to work may face delayed parole or loss of privileges.
Certain offenders may be forced to work providing community service, sometimes as a condition of probation. Offenders on probation must maintain appropriate employment or participate in vocational training.
Supporters of the amendment say that it will remove archaic language that represents inequality and will reflect important values, such as equality and liberty.
Opponents say that work requirements for prisoners provide them purpose and structure, as well as the ability to build skills.
A “yes” vote to Amendment T supports the removal of this provision that allows convicted criminals to be forced into doing unpaid labor without their consent, and a “no” vote leaves the constitution unchanged.
Another ballot item, Amendment 71, or “Raise The Bar,” would make it harder for citizens to amend the state constitution by requiring a more extensive process to put measures on the ballot.
If the amendment passes, any future measures would have to get signatures from at least two percent of registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 senate districts to appear on the ballot. Currently, it is possible for the signatures to be from one area. Furthermore, the measure would require 55 percent of voters to approve an issue, rather than requiring a simple majority.
Supporters of the amendment say that Colorado’s constitution is too easy to change, and is therefore being used too frequently to test the latest policy ideas. Colorado’s constitution has been amended about 150 times, whereas the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times.
Proponents also say the more extensive signature requirements would allow for people from all around Colorado, not just those in urban areas, to have a voice in whether a proposed amendment makes it to the ballot.
Opponents of the amendment think the broader signature requirements would make it too difficult to amend the constitution, and would make circulating petitions twice as expensive. The costs associated with hiring people to collect signatures could hinder the democratic process, according to the argument.
Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Eliza Radeka at firstname.lastname@example.org.