In recent years, sentencing reform has received a lot of attention. We’ve rightly come to the realization that we can’t just lock people up and throw away the key. More than 95% of people in prison are eventually released back into society. Once a person has served their sentence, how should they be treated in society? Another important question is how do we keep those people from ending up back in prison? These two questions are closely related.
Felon disenfranchisement refers to the loss of rights by those convicted of serious crimes. 48 states practice some form of felon disenfranchisement. Most often it involves the loss of the right to vote. Of the 6 million people who have lost this right, more than 75% aren’t currently in prison. 1 in 3 adults have lost their voting rights. Disenfranchisement is more than just the loss of voting rights. In some states, felons are denied social services, such as public housing and food stamps.
More than 75% of those released from prison will be re-arrested within 5 years. Researchers have found that states with more disenfranchisement have higher rates of recidivism. Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith, in a paper published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, stated that “individuals who are released in states that permanently disenfranchise are roughly nineteen percent more likely to be rearrested than those released in states that restore the franchise”. Restoring rights isn’t just a matter of fairness; it’s good public policy in that it reduces recidivism. This is why abandoning disenfranchisement has been gaining support on both sides of the aisle. As assistant professor of political science Victoria Shineman wrote, “Although felon disenfranchisement has traditionally been a partisan issue, bipartisan alliances have recently found common ground”.
Hamilton, Guy Padriac, and Matt Vogel. “The Violence of Voicelessness: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement on Recidivism .” BerkeleyLaw, 2012, https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1252&context=blrlj
Shineman, Victoria. “Restoring Rights, Restoring Trust: Evidence That Reversing Felon Disenfranchisement Penalties Increases Both Trust and Cooperation with Government.” Daniel Rubenson, 2017, https://rubenson.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/shineman-tpbw18.pdf
“Time Outlasting Crimes? Is Felony Disenfranchisement Fair?” Home, https://www.billtrack50.com/blog/social-issues/civil-rights/time-outlasting-crimes-is-felony-disenfranchisement-fair/