The Ironic Promise of the Thirteenth Amendment for Offender Anti-Discrimination Law

50 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014 Last revised: 2 Apr 2015

Date Written: May 21, 2014


Persons convicted of crimes are routinely shut out of legitimate labor and housing markets, precipitating recidivist behavior and other social ills. In an attempt to curtail these practices, local and state governments have enacted anti-discrimination legislation designed to protect offenders’ access to these markets. Local legislative efforts have, however, proven inadequate to quell discrimination against this group, prompting calls for a federal response. This Article identifies a source of law supporting broad-ranging federal anti-discrimination legislation in this area — the Thirteenth Amendment. The goal of this Article is to provide a historical basis for linking market exclusion to slavery and other forms of citizen subordination. By examining the pernicious effects of private discrimination on offenders, it shows that these forms of discrimination mimic characteristics of American chattel slavery and warrant swift, comprehensive intervention.

Keywords: Offender Reentry, Anti-Discrimination Legislation, Thirteenth Amendment, Slavery, Social Death, Market Exclusion, 'Ban the Box'

Suggested Citation

Henderson, Taja-Nia Y., The Ironic Promise of the Thirteenth Amendment for Offender Anti-Discrimination Law (May 21, 2014). Lewis & Clark Law Review, Vol. 17, No. 4, 2013, Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Paper No. 145, Available at SSRN: or

Taja-Nia Y. Henderson (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States
973-353-3166 (Phone)


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