The Ballot as a Bulwark: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement on Recidivism
24 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 30, 2011
Felony disenfranchisement – the exclusion of individuals convicted of felonies from the voting rolls – is a practice that is commonplace in the United States. In 2010, approximately 5.3 million Americans were ineligible to vote because of a prior felony conviction. Despite the fact that the justifications for disenfranchisement in a democratic society could be characterized as dubious, disenfranchisement has withstood various legal challenges and remains a widespread practice in almost every state. One argument which has never been examined empirically is the notion that disenfranchisement hampers efforts to rehabilitate offenders, which is what this article does. First, this article explores the history and philosophy that underlies disenfranchisement along with theoretical mechanisms by which disenfranchisement can be thought to have an impact on recidivism. Second, the legal challenges that have been made against disenfranchisement are discussed with a particular focus on challenges under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Voting Rights Act. A novel constitutional argument under principles of congruence and proportionality is also examined. Third, this article uses re-arrest data collected by the United States Department of Justice to examine the impact of felony disenfranchisement on recidivism. These results are discussed along with implications for future inquiries.
Keywords: Disenfranchisement, voting rights, recidivism, crime control, human rights, voting rights act, equal protection, collateral consequence
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