More on Felon Disenfranchisement and Its Slavery-based Origin

This is a follow-up to our earlier post on the new report by The Sentencing Project, State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010.

A remarkable 5.85 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of “felon disenfranchisement,” or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes.

In Hawai`i, incarcerated individuals are not allowed to vote. See HRS 831-5. Pre-trial detainees in jail DO have the right to vote, although nothing is done to make sure that they can exercise their right to vote.

“Felony disfranchisement disproportionately impacts people and communities of color. Over 1.4 million of our disfranchised citizens are African-American. The development of felony disfranchisement law is tied to the history of racial discrimination in America. In 1870, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed banning race-based disfranchisement. In order to restrict the political participation of newly-enfranchised African-Americans, Southern states began to use criminal disfranchisement laws as a tool to suppress the African-American vote. While disfranchisement laws already existed, a number of Southern states tailored their laws to target African-Americans. For example, Mississippi revised its constitution to impose disfranchisement as a penalty specifically for crimes of which African-Americans were most frequently convicted. Over 100 years later, these laws remain in effect.” (aclu.org)

Voting is a fundamental right of democracy. CAP believes that all incarcerated persons should retain the right to vote. Retaining this fundamental right supports incarcerated persons in becoming more productive and full citizens upon their release. Restoring voting rights for incarcerated people is part of a comprehensive reentry strategy because a vibrant democracy demands participation and educating individuals on how to participate is vital to good citizenship.

“Studies have shown that the benefits of voting are numerous. Individuals who vote generally help to make their communities safer and more vibrant by giving to charity, volunteering, attending school board meetings, serving on juries and participating more actively in their communities. Research has also shown that individuals who vote are less likely to be rearrested.” (aclu.org)

Denying participation in the voting process, further marginalizes individuals and threatens public safety. Including people enhances public safety and builds community, which needs everyone’s participation. 

Frederick Douglas said it most succinctly,

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

For more on Felony Disenfranchisement:
The Brennan Center for Justice
American Civil Liberties Union

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