How Felon-Branding Will Ban a Historic 6 Million Americans From This Year's Vote

The Guardian has a piece today explaining how state laws banning felons from voting will disenfranchise a historic number of Americans this year. The article does a good job of explaining how permanent felon branding severely disenfranchises Blacks, and holds the potential to influence this year's election. It skips over, however, one crucial element of felon-labeling. The war on drugs, waged in low-income communities of color, adds heavy police presence to neighborhoods and makes not only drug, but also other arrests, more likely.  In 2008, 22%of felonies were drug charges.  

From the Guardian:

Almost 6 million Americans will not be able to vote in November’s presidential election under tough state rules that have pushed the number of disenfranchised former convicted criminals to a historic high.A new study by the Sentencing Project estimates that a record 5.85 million people – some 2.5% of the US voting age population equivalent to one out of every 40 adult Americans – will be ineligible to vote in November by dint of having been convicted of a felony. That includes almost 3 million people who have served their sentence in full, including all probation, and yet are still stripped of their right to vote under harsh state laws.

The US is the among the strictest nations in the world in terms of denying the vote to those who have felony convictions on their record. The Sentencing Project report shows how the laws have been sharply toughened up in recent years across many states, dramatically increasing the numbers caught in the felony trap – from just 1.2 million people in 1976 to 5.9 million in 2010.

African Americans and other minority ethnic groups are particularly vulnerable to being disenfranchised. Almost 8% of adult African Americans are ineligible to vote because of convictions, compared to 1.8% of the rest of the adult population.

In three states with the harshest laws – Florida, Kentucky and Virginia – more than one in five black Americans have been stripped of their vote.

According to the Sentencing Project, Florida has disenfranchised more than 5 million people -- 1 in 10 adults in the state -- because of their criminal records. Florida's significance to the presidential election -- as well as the importance of Black voters --  cannot be overstated. 

Still, banning felons from the polls (and our democracy at large) is only one way criminals are pushed into the under-caste.  As Michelle Alexander explains in her poignant book The New Jim Crow, felon-branding raises steep barriers to education, employment, housing, and government benefits, so that released (mostly Black) prisoners linger permanently at the bottom of society. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at July 13, 2012, 9:27am

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