U.S. Felon Disenfranchisement Laws Questioned
In a surprising move, Attorney General Eric Holder has teamed up with Tea Party-backed Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee to fight against felon disenfranchisement — the reality of a person convicted of a felony subsequently losing certain civil rights due to the felony conviction. This group of strange bedfellows is primarily concerned with the voting rights of those previously convicted of felonies.
According to news reports, 11 states deny or restrict voting rights to persons who have been under some form of correctional control (i.e., incarceration, probation, parole). This equates to approximately 5.8 million disenfranchised felons. In states like Florida that have particularly onerous felon disenfranchisement laws, upwards of 10 percent of the population is barred from voting. According to Attorney General Holder, 1 in 13 black American adults are prohibited from voting due to felon disenfranchisement laws; 1 in 5 in Virginia, Kentucky, and Florida.
Now, with Attorney General Holders’ legacy as a justice reformer in question, he has stepped up his work to revise some of these harmful laws, which some have suggested actually encourage repeat crime and recidivism. On February 11, 2014 he and Senators Paul and Lee participated in a forum at the Georgetown Law School to discuss the issues of mandatory minimum sentencing, prison expansion, and felon disenfranchisement.
While this is a laudable step in the right direction, most recent public policy discussions concerning American criminal justice reform have tended to cherry pick small groups of offenders to help. This group, as others, has focused on nonviolent drug offenders. For example, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), has also focused almost exclusively on drug offenders. Even the Obama administration has their favorite group to help: nonviolent, minority crack cocaine offenders who have served long sentences under the old, draconian crack cocaine sentencing guidelines.