Incarceration nation

Buying and Selling Black People

Here’s how America continues to buy and sell Black people

By Darrell Padgett

As a project for a master’s course, I selected an assignment that required me to research sentencing reform over a period of 50 years. But because of my inquisitive nature, I stuck my nose into the latter part of the nineteenth century—immediately succeeding the prohibition of slavery in 1865.

During this period, I recognized that slavery did not actually end! In fact, slavery morphed into the criminal justice system as authorized by the same mechanism, which purportedly prohibited slavery—the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thus, the 13th Amendment gave birth to convict leasing laws through the “except” clause of the amendment.

Some forms of convict leasing laws permitted whites to take custody as creditors of Black prisoners by paying criminal fines that were imposed by the legal system against the prisoners for violating Black Codes. As a consequence, the prisoners were forced to perform hard labor for their creditors. Black Codes were laws that were specifically designed to target the existence of Black life during that time.

As I conducted this research, I could not deny the similarities of the foregoing to the enactment of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (crack law) by U.S. Congress. During the infancy of the enforcement of the crack law, approximately 98 percent of the defendants that were prosecuted were African Americans.

Even though Congress has reformed the injustice of the crack law that made a 100-to-1 distinction in the penalties for crack and powder cocaine sentencing based on the inclusion of a household product that is known as baking soda, today hundreds of crack law prisoners remain incarcerated. Because of their court imposed fines, many of the crack law prisoners are required to work in the federal Bureau of Prisons’ “slave factories,” wherein the beginning hourly pay is $0.23. Freedom! Convict leasing! Black Codes! All in the 21st century!

Darrell Padgett was sentenced to prison for 37.5 years after he was arrested for the distribution of one gram of crack cocaine. He served more than 20 years in federal prison before he won his freedom. Darrell is now a graduate student pursuing a Master of Criminal Justice Administration degree. He is also a Criminal Justice consultant and the owner of Insight Into Prison Consultants.

Financial Juneteenth, February 11, 2015