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April 8, 2018

George Will commentary assails felon disenfranchisement in Florida

I am very pleased to see this effective commentary by George Will under the headline "There’s no good reason to stop felons from voting." I recommend the short piece in full, and here are parts that struck me as especially effective:

Intelligent and informed people of good will can strenuously disagree about the wisdom of policies that have produced mass incarceration. What is, however, indisputable is that this phenomenon creates an enormous problem of facilitating the reentry into society of released prisoners who were not improved by the experience of incarceration and who face discouraging impediments to employment and other facets of social normality.  In 14 states and the District , released felons automatically recover their civil rights.

Recidivism among Florida’s released felons has been approximately 30 percent for the five years 2011-2015.  Of the 1,952 people whose civil rights were restored, five committed new offenses, an average recidivism rate of 0.4 percent.  This sample is skewed by self-selection — overrepresentation of those who had the financial resources and tenacity to navigate the complex restoration process that each year serves a few hundred of the 1.6 million.  Still, the recidivism numbers are suggestive.

What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety?  How?  Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate?  This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue.  A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons — who really do not require reminding — of their past, and by advertising it to their community?  The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully reentering the community.

April 8, 2018 at 10:21 AM | Permalink

Comments

"This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue. A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons — who really do not require reminding — of their past, and by advertising it to their community? The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully reentering the community"

Sure that true but look at the other side. When one has 1.5 million voters who have served time in prison that is large population among many who won't support the laws that put them there in the first place. There are close to a million sex offenders nation wide; imagine if they were all to move to a small state and start voting in their representatives to undo the laws that put them in jail in the first place. WE CANT HAVE THAT. That's the problem with stigma, if doesn't have any teeth it isn't stigma.


Posted by: Little Beth | Apr 8, 2018 11:55:30 AM

Interesting comment here on Justice Stevens' participation on the prisoner assistance committee of the Chicago Bar Committee influencing his opinions:

https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/ilr/pdf/vol44p853.pdf


The mentality, anyway, here harkens back to the "civil death" philosophy where a prisoner symbolically at least "died" once prosecuted of a crime. This civil death lingered on after release. But, as Stevens noted in regard to prisoners (Meachum v. Fano, dissenting), this philosophy should be deemed outmoded. There is enough room for agreement here to reach beyond simplistic ideological lines. Depending on those of each party in power.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 8, 2018 1:26:03 PM

Will notes that the man he is writing about is black, but none of the history of racism that augmented the disenfranchisement laws.

"It wasn’t until the end of the Civil War and the expansion of suffrage to black men that felony disenfranchisement became a significant barrier to U.S. ballot boxes. At that point, two interconnected trends combined to make disenfranchisement a major obstacle for newly enfranchised black voters. First, lawmakers — especially in the South — implemented a slew of criminal laws designed to target black citizens. And nearly simultaneously, many states enacted broad disenfranchisement laws that revoked voting rights from anyone convicted of any felony. These two trends laid the foundation for the form of mass disenfranchisement seen in this country today."
https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/racism-felony-disenfranchisement-intertwined-history

Glad he's aware of the problem and making some sense, but if he - and many of the other right on crime republicans - can't understand the racial aspects of the problem, they can't effectively advocate for change.

Posted by: Paul | Apr 9, 2018 8:36:31 AM

George Will does reference the effect of such laws falls on blacks in particular with comments such as "He is one of the more than 20 percent of African American Floridians disenfranchised." The rejoinder there is that is somehow justified, that we should not be concerned with discriminatory effect. The history there would help.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2018 12:23:46 PM

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