Are Felons Still Citizens?

When looking at Judith Shklar’s piece on voting and standing we discussed how African Americans and women were excluded in history. But who is excluded now? A large group is seen as less than citizens, and that is felons. This is not to say that criminals should punished, but there needs to be a restitutive approach rather than repressive. A felony is determined by state criminal laws yet voting is a federally instituted freedom thus people are committing the same crimes in different states and some are losing their right to vote while others are not.

Is disenfranchising American citizens for committing a crime repressive or restitutive? The disenfranchisement of felons also comes with the lack of job opportunities as well as lack of public welfare. At this point it becomes repressive, these people have no voice as Shklar would say and are not able to have the same standing. After they have fulfilled their sentencing their life is never the same. There are almost 6 million Americans that are unable to vote according to the sentincingproject.org. For a comparison, that is the same as the entire population of the state of Wisconsin. Seeing that the entire population of Wisconsin does not vote because of age or lack of participation. The six million felons would have a huge impact on our elections.             map-of-fd-laws-by-state

This map of the United States shows the current laws in place that disenfranchise felons. Each shade of blue represents at which point a felon is limited in their ability to vote.

There are many types of felonies varying by state. The policy of restoring rights also varies by state. There are currently only two states that take a complete restitutive approach to felon voting, Maine and Vermont do not restrict voting at all. Felons are able to vote during prison, parole, and probation. However, there are twelve states that restrict voting even after being released and completing probation. The lack of consistency is a major issue when restoring rights for criminal offenders. It is understandable to not be able to vote while in prison, however there needs to be an overarching decision when it comes to who loses their standing and who does not.

We also see the same argument of voting and citizenship when discussing Frederick Douglass’ work. He makes the point that those that are already standing citizens try to keep it exclusive to themselves. Felons and losing their right to vote is often given the argument, “well they’re criminals so they made that choice.” By not being able to vote, their punishment now lasts for the rest of their lives. They are now stripped of their standing and never equal to those in their community once their sentence is completed.

American citizenship is unique because it comes with a list of liberties. We have the right to vote, but it is a choice not a requirement. Felons lose this right and their right may never be restored. There needs to be an evolving level of decency when it comes to crime and punishment. The retraction of voting is repressive and felons thus lose their standing as American citizens. America needs to create a federal statue deciding how to approach voting and felons.

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7 Responses to Are Felons Still Citizens?

  1. Clopez says:

    You pose an interesting question. I feel that you did not go far into analyzing your own question. I believe this is a perfect reflection of American’s inability or rather relative ability to define what and who makes up an American citizen. I think your question begs three other thought provoking questions, First, should one choice determine the entirety of an individual’s voice? Second, if these voices were allowed to vote would it alter the outcome of elections? Third, what compromises an American citizen. I think analyzing these questions may provide some insight into your blog post.

  2. moarmouat says:

    This is an interesting topic! However, don’t felons, usually, go against their citizenship in when they are committing their crime? Yes, felonies differ, but what would constitute a felony that would allow the person to retain the right to vote while it strips it from another? I think if you analyzed your question a bit more, in terms of what a citizen is and what it takes to remain a citizen, there may be more of a clear cut answer. I agree that the federal government should create some sort of statute for dealing with this issue. I do not believe every felon should lose their right to vote.

    • kassandracarol says:

      I understand your point. However I don’t think citizenship is defined by criminality and also criminal deviancy is not a condition, there are always mitigating factors and solutions. As a society we need to treat these individuals as people and not deplorables. A felony in Arizona for example could constitute crossing the light rail tracks in non designated areas. This means in doing that you could lose your right to vote, and be a citizen. At no point is crossing the railroad tracks going against your citizenship.

  3. Ryan Wadding says:

    I like that you linked the Shklar reading to a very real issue facing America today. I also liked that you pointed out that voting is a right guaranteed by the federal government but state governments are allowed to limit that right for some ridiculous reason. I do not find a legitimate and ethical reason for disenfranchising felons and those who are serving time in prison. I welcome anyone to give me a good reason why. Well done. Also, you should read the book titled “New Jim Crow Laws” by Michelle Alexander. Alexander argues that the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the ridiculous war on drugs. Fantastic book. Cheers!

  4. pinkfreud96 says:

    I think your question is one that desperately needs answering from our government! In so, so many ways, the punishment for former felons is retributive and not restitutive at all. As you made note of, when looking at “citizenship through standing,” it becomes apparent that felons have a unique, lower standing than non-felon citizens that persists after their sentencing and initial punishment. It is far more difficult for felons to acquire loans, leases, or employment compared to other citizens, based off that fact alone. The disenfranchisement is another, perhaps more pernicious punishment that comes from formal authorities as opposed to social pressures and prejudices against felons.

    An interesting piece I recently read (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-13th-amendment-didn-abolish-slavery-article-1.2801218) discusses how the 13th Amendment did not end all slavery in the United States–it had a poison pill built right in, which continued to permit slavery “as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Essentially, our modern prison-industrial-complex is the new form of slavery for millions of Americans. Prisoners, as it is well-known, are paid pennies an hour for what is typically hard, arduous manual labor. If you zoom out and look at the similarities between prison labor and slave labor–sub-standard sustenance and housing are provided, workers get virtually zero share of the profits from their own labor, punishment is severe for reluctance to work or disobedience–it’s not a huge stretch to suggest that prisons are nearly the equivalent of modern-day plantations. Even worse, of course, is that this travesty is both Constitutionally and systematically upheld across the nation. While in prison, felons are treated and viewed as nothing close to full citizens–that point can hardly be argued.

    With regards to their lives after prison, I wholeheartedly believe that felons must be reincorporated into society, particularly when it comes to enfranchisement.There is no genuine governmental, social, personal, or economic interest that is served by continually punishing felons for their past crimes. That is the entire point of prison–to punish. The retribution for the felon’s crimes against society and others is meant to take place there, not in every facet of life for the rest of their time on earth. Certainly, codifying a consistent federal law with regards to felon voting rights would be a major step forward in criminal justice reform. It would be a vital, fundamental first step toward ensuring the proper post-incarceration treatment of our many past, present, and future American prisoners.

  5. cvazquez131 says:

    You make a great point about how felons are a new group of people being excluded the right to vote. Although felons are a minority in their own right, the amount of felons is disproportionately African American, and Latino males. The United States war on drugs has essentially become a new set of Jim Crow laws. Even though blacks and white uses drugs at about the same rate, blacks are far more likely to be convicted of a drug related offense. After Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill the United States prison population rose by 673,000 throughout his tenure as president. He also made felons, even those with only marijuana offenses, ineligible for welfare and public housing. The worst part about all this is that an African American is far more likely to go to jail over a drug offense. When I lived in a dorm at the University of Arizona, my white roommate was caught with Marijuana in our dorm by police officers. He was not arrested, or even handcuffed. While my roommate may have gotten away with just taking some bs classes ordered by the dean of students, many young African American, and Latino males are not so lucky. Rand Paul sums this up nicely here ——> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcsd7h2C3Zw
    I find Donald Trump’s stop and frisk rhetoric as of late extremely troublesome, this clear violation of the 4th amendment will surely disproportionately affect minorities. Hopefully Hillary Clinton will have learned from her husbands mistakes regarding this issue.
    http://www.salon.com/2015/04/13/the_clinton_dynastys_horrific_legacy_how_tough_on_crime_politics_built_the_worlds_largest_prison/

  6. filj says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Its interesting to think how different our elections would be if an additional six million people could vote. I also would like to refer back to the federalist/antifederalist papers, where the argument was if a right is not listed, is it interpreted to being excluded? The map you included was very informative. The reintegration and rehabilitation of american citizens after prison is an issue that needs to be addressed, and the voting laws in regards to felons should be issued at a federal level in an effort to welcome them back to society, regardless of county.

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