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

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 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, have organized a panel discussion with experts to begin the conversation about this process for criminal justice change. The goal of the dialogue is to develop strategies that will increase public awareness, fuel public discourse, and build momentum to amend the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

Registration required: RSVP Here!


Flores A. Forbes, Associate Vice President Strategic Policy and Program Implementation in the Office of Government & Community Affairs at Columbia University, will begin 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 will expand on the United Way literacy campaign and the historical connection of literacy on 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 will discuss 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

Office of Government and Community Affairs
(212) 854-5915