Civil Death and the Execution of Democracy: Black Political Power in 'New Jim Crow' Era of Mass Incarceration

Forthcoming in National Conference of Black Political Scientists Wilmington, Delaware, March 13-15, 2014

26 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2014

Date Written: March 1, 2014

Abstract

Under the concept of "civil death", felony convictions trigger disenfranchisement laws that suspend the voting rights of prisoners, parolees and probationers. A disproportionate number of prisoners are African-American. Consequently, these laws disproportionately fetter black voting rights and political power as well. Many states and localities engage in prison-based gerrymandering: counting the incarcerated at their prison residences when reapportioning and redistricting. This practice enhances the political power of regions where prisons are located, while reducing that of the prisoners' home communities and of neighboring regions without prisons. Felon disenfranchisement and prison-based gerrymandering conflict with the core American principles of equality and democracy. Both policies constrain the spirit if not the letter of the Civil War amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the latter breathes new life into the Three-Fifths clause. In these respects, mass incarceration effectively executes a significant amount of African-American political power.

Keywords: felon disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, minority voting rights

JEL Classification: J78, K39

Suggested Citation

Rivers, Christina R., Civil Death and the Execution of Democracy: Black Political Power in 'New Jim Crow' Era of Mass Incarceration (March 1, 2014). Forthcoming in National Conference of Black Political Scientists Wilmington, Delaware, March 13-15, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2404105 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2404105

Christina R. Rivers (Contact Author)

DePaul University ( email )

1 East Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60604
United States

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