Felon Disenfranchisement Essay
Disenfranchised felons should be reintegrated into society and recover their right to vote. Disenfranchisement is the harshest civil sanction imposed by a democratic society. Some of the problems involved with disenfranchisement include racism, inaccurate polls, and the massive amount of people affected. If the voice of the entire population does not include all sources and agendas, the polls will not be accurate. In Camilli’s research, it is assumed that the enfranchisement of the population is important for a fair and effective democratic community: those governed by this community must be able to vote. (2-3). Racism, although seemingly not the topic at hand, is indeed a primary contributor to this problem. One such limitation of felon disenfranchisement is the disproportionate impact of felon disenfranchisement on racial minorities in the United States, also the close election vote totals in recent prominent elections which may have been swung by the existence of felon disenfranchisement. As Joseph Camilli points out, disenfranchisement has a disproportionate impact upon racial minorities. African Americans are affected more and also men are affected more in general. This brings forth the argument that the outcome is racist or even sexist. This is important when looking at recent elections involving racial minorities (3).
Even if the desire is not intended to have racist outcomes, sometimes disenfranchisement laws still do. In Elizabeth Hulls research, she explains the number of black juveniles in the penal system, forty percent of whom will be prohibited from voting during some or all of their adult lives is astoundingly high. Many are first-time offenders who readily accept a guilty plea in exchange for probation. In the process, they often forfeit voting rights before they have even had an opportunity to exercise them. Given these consequences, it is hardly surprising that the United States Civil Rights Commission recently concluded that the disenfranchisement of ex-convicts is “the biggest hindrance to black voting since the poll tax”(Hull 1). In retrospect, maybe disenfranchising the nation’s future is not the best idea. Racism is a large problem of disenfranchisement.
Disenfranchisement also affects this nation’s polls because large groups of people are not represented. The sheer number of felons with no right to vote skews the elections, especially those on the local level, and smaller communities. If the amount of felons were not so great, it may not be such an important issue. Since about one out of every forty-four people cannot vote, it implies that the polls are not accurate. Disenfranchisement is crippling in some areas where voting should be important. Small communities are completely underrepresented, and a small group has a larger influence. This has a large impact on certain issues when the entire population is required to make a sound choice. Felons have paid their debt to society; they should be reintegrated into mainstream society as smoothly as possible. It also may be a deterrent to future crime if they were to be able to re-experience a normal life, and include all of the rights they were missing. Perhaps they would even understand how important their rights were and serve to discourage fellow members of the community from future crime. Ex-Felons deserve the right to vote and for a strong democratic community should not be disenfranchised. In some cities, more than 50 percent of young African-American men are disenfranchised.
A vast majority of prison inmates are African-Americans. Twelve percent of all African-American men in their twenties are incarcerated. This suggests that of the current population, more than a third of the black male community will be disenfranchised. More than a third of the 4.7 million disenfranchised felons are African-Americans. In four of the states with lifetime bans for felons, a quarter (Virginia, Iowa) and a third (Florida, Alabama) of all black men are ineligible to vote. As noted in Guy Stuart’s research, between 1935 and 1970, about 106 out of 100,000 Americans were incarcerated in federal or state prison; by 1980, the rate was 139 per 100,000; and in 2000, it was 478 per 100,000. The increases have not been solely confined to those incarcerated; the jail population and the number on probation and parole have also increased, from 662 per 100,000 in 1980 to 1,878 in 2000. Furthermore, the high incarceration rates disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos (5). “In its 1974 decision in Richardson v. Ramirez, the Supreme Court held that this language in the Fourteenth Amendment (the so-called Penalty Clause) provides an affirmative sanction for at least some forms of felon disenfranchisement,” (Hinchcliff 1).
Hinchcliff also points out that disenfranchisement upon minorities right now is greater than in any other time in history, especially upon African American males (1). The amending law in 1984 specified that if they resulted in racism despite intentions, it would be unconstitutional. About 3.9 million citizens in the U.S. were not able to take part in this year’s election, because of U.S. disenfranchisement laws regarding convicted felons. It is also important to focus on future obstructions such as how much the United States population has increased in the past few decades. Further obstructions that impede felons’ reintegration and lifelong barriers that affect their entire future are difficulties in employment, buying or renting a house, going to college, and other advantages open to the public. These ex-felons are continually punished by society. They must state if they have a felony when attempting to gain a job. The federal government claims that it is the state’s prerogative. This causes much confusion, and many felons were able to vote in their area but did not know it due to the common misconception that felons could not vote. Some states ban voting by felons on probation or parole or even those who are no longer under any supervision by the criminal-justice system. Felons should be punished but not continually throughout their lives.
Once their debt to society has been repaid, why should their rights still be forfeited? If people show criminals that their votes counted after they were released from prison perhaps it would encourage law abiding behavior. Why should these felons be excluded when they are also affected by elected leaders? According to Siegel’s research, Today, there are over 1. 5Million adults currently incarcerated in state or federal facilities, with an additional 700,000 individuals serving time In local jails (Sabol & Couture, 2008). Minorities of color are severely overrepresented within the criminal justice system. (Despite representing 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans compose 38 percent of presently incarcerated inmates; similarly, Hispanic total just over 15 percent of the overall population and 20 percent of inmates. (1) According to the research done by Guy Stuart, U.S. incarceration rates have been rising quickly in the past few decades. Most of the country has disenfranchisement laws. Almost forty percent of those disenfranchised are African American men. Slightly over six percent of the African American community has been disenfranchised. “This level of disfranchisement may have had a significant impact on electoral outcomes in a number of states over the past twenty years, largely because those disfranchised would more likely have voted for the Democratic Party candidate” (1). Some people suggest a cool down period.
They believe the felon should have to wait for years after serving his/her sentence. Sometimes this is so far out of hand that the felon would die of old age before he/she could vote again. They should be given the chance to prove they have been rehabilitated. Another argument against this unjust disenfranchisement is the felon knew the crime called for punishments, including loss of privileges. Some people believe since they already knew the punishments involved, that the ex-felons should not be given a second opportunity. A felony should not call for a lifetime punishment, especially when the crime does not always fit the punishment. Disenfranchisement is immoral, unbeneficial, and illegal. Unless an ex- felon has committed voter fraud, why should their punishment include disenfranchisement? Since it affects largely African American men more than other cultural and ethnic backgrounds, it has perhaps unintended racist outcomes. Felons have already paid their debt to society with their prison time and any fines they may have had to pay. A life sentence is an unnecessary addition to their sentence. They may not feel very accepted by people if they cannot vote. Normally people may want an ex-felon to feel very at home in society so as not to alienate them. Polls that are accurate are important to all people, because they do not just affect law-abiding citizens. They also affect felons and ex-felons.
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