Undermining Individual and Collective Citizenship: The Impact of Exclusion Laws on the African-American Community
57 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2008 Last revised: 18 Jul 2008
Felon exclusion laws prohibit convicted felons from exercising a host of legal rights, most notably the right to vote. The professed intent of these laws is to punish convicted felons equally without regard for the demographic characteristics of each individual, e.g. race, class, or gender; however, the laws have a disproportionate impact on African-American males and on the residential communities to which they belong. Historically, these laws were passed to deny the vote to newly freed African-Americans following Reconstruction, thus denying them the opportunity to be full citizens. While I agree that the right to vote is both symbolically and practically important, I contend that whenever a citizen is denied any right that is guaranteed to all other members of society, the citizen from whom that right is withheld is denied full citizenship. A convicted felon suffers from a number of disabilities, not least of which is the infringement upon the right to vote. Depending upon the jurisdiction, a convicted felon can be prohibited from serving on a jury, obtaining public employment, holding public office, or owning a firearm; cited as a reason to terminate a convicted felon's marriage or parenting rights; and can require a convicted felon to register with local law enforcement officials. Ex-felons, individuals that are no longer under the control of the criminal justice system, possess the strongest claim for having their rights restored automatically upon the completion of their sentences. The purpose of this Article is to expose felon exclusion laws as a method for undermining the individual and collective citizenship rights of the African-American community, and to call for their abolition.
Keywords: felon, disenfranchisement, citizenship, race, right
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