Felon Disenfranchisement

California could allow more felons to vote, in major shift

California election officials are reversing a policy that prevents 45,000 felons from casting ballots, placing the state in the forefront of a movement to boost voting rights for ex-criminals.

California has until now maintained that state law prohibits felons from voting not only when they are in prison or on parole but also when they are under community supervision.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Tuesday that the state would now back voting rights for felons on community supervision, which is generally overseen by county probation departments.

The shift affects a growing number of felons because under the state’s effort to reduce prison and jail crowding, the vast majority of nonviolent offenders are being released into community supervision programs.

Padilla said the decision was “compelled by conscience.”

“It is not lost on me that persons of color are disproportionately represented in our correctional institutions and that undeniable disparities exist,” he added.

Restoring voting rights to felons has become closely tied to nationwide efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

“These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive,” former Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech to a civil rights group in February. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”

 

Read Full Story

The Sustained Momentum and Growing Bipartisan Consensus for Voting Rights Restoration

Myrna PérezTomas LopezVishal Agraharkar

July 6, 2015

Currently, more than 4 million Americans living and working in their communities are unable to vote because of a felony conviction in their past.[1] Antiquated laws continue to deny citizens a stake in their communities, and the population as a whole loses out on the benefits that come from more civically engaged citizens. But the continued challenge does not diminish the real progress the United States has made this century. More people with criminal convictions in their past are able to vote today, and in more states, than they could 20 years ago — and efforts continue at both the state and federal levels to grow that number still. Over the past two decades, more than 20 states have taken action (legislative or executive) to allow more people with past criminal convictions to vote, to vote sooner, or to access that right more easily.[2] That includes reforms in six states over the past five years.[3] And just this year, in 2015, one bill was signed into law in Wyoming,[4] and reform bills moved in at least three additional states.[5]

One key factor in this progress is the growing bipartisan consensus on the need for criminal justice reform, and the recognition that restoring voting rights is a smart-on-crime policy. Leaders of both parties are acknowledging that we imprison too many people for too long, and do not provide adequate opportunities for people to reintegrate into society — rather than recidivate — after they leave incarceration.[6]  That recognition has led law enforcement professionals, faith leaders, and public officials from across the political spectrum to endorse voting rights restoration proposals nationwide.

The momentum for voting rights restoration is reflected in both the wave of reforms that have spread throughout the United States in recent years, and the growing number of supporters who see reform as common sense.

The Steady Wave of Reform

The nation’s felony disenfranchisement laws range from lifetime bans on voting for people with felony convictions in three states (Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky) unless a pardon can be obtained, to laws in two states that allow people to vote while serving their term of incarceration (Maine and Vermont). The remaining states exercise a range of policies,[7]many of which have changed in recent years to restore the right to vote to more Americans with past criminal convictions. The recent wave of reform has extended access to the vote to people with criminal convictions through both legislative and executive action, and through a variety of policy changes in more than 20 states.

Rhode Island Restores Voting Rights to Citizens Living in their Community, and Additional States Restore Voting Rights to Tens of Thousands More

Rhode Island implemented the nation’s most extensive recent reform. In 2006, voters approved a ballot measure that allowed citizens to vote when released from prison, or who were never incarcerated in the first place.[8] Additionally, since 2000, three states have fully lifted lifetime bans on voting by citizens with past criminal convictions and now automatically restore the right to vote when a person has completed their sentence, including parole and probation. Together, the legislative efforts to end lifetime felony disenfranchisement in New Mexico (2001),[9] Nebraska (2005),[10] and Maryland (2007)[11] restored the right to vote for more than 160,000 citizens.[12]

For a time, Iowa ended its lifetime ban and automatically restored voting rights for those who completed their sentences. In 2005, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack issued an executive order that allowed approximately 80,000 citizens to vote.[13] A later governor, Terry Branstad, reversed this action,[14] and the state is once again one of three, with Florida and Kentucky, where only the governor can restore a citizen’s voting rights.

Numerous States Have Restored Voting Rights to Some Citizens Living in the Community

Some states selectively restore voting rights to certain citizens in the community. For example, in 2001, Connecticut extended voting rights to citizens on probation, making it one of four states that make a distinction between the voting rights of probationers and parolees. Five states since 2000 have taken action to selectively expand automatic voting rights restoration to those with certain convictions.[15] While these distinctions can impose administrative costs and lead to confusion among both election officials and the general public, the expansion of voting rights restoration remains a positive development for both states and those who qualify for rights restoration.

Read Full Story

8 Facts You Should Know About the Criminal Justice System and People of Color

By Jamal Hagler | Thursday, May 28, 201
 

Center for American Progress

The nation’s criminal justice system is broken. People of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are unfairly targeted by the police and face harsher prison sentences than their white counterparts. Given the nation’s coming demographic shift, in which there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by 2044, the United States cannot afford for these trends to continue. Not only could the money spent on mass incarceration—$80 billion in 2010—be put to better use, but the consequences for people who become entangled in the criminal justice system are also lifelong, leading to barriers to employment and housing, among many other things.

The shocking deaths at the hands of police in New York CityFerguson, Missouri; North Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, to name a few, have awakened the nation to the criminal justice system’s disparate impact on people of color. Tensions have flared throughout the country as news stories about how people of color are targeted and mistreated have come to light. As Americans reflect on the devastating recent events and as momentum builds to reform the U.S. criminal justice system, it is important to take note of the many ways in which the current system disproportionately affects people of color and creates significant barriers to opportunity for people with criminal records. Consider the following eight facts:

  • People of color are significantly overrepresented in the U.S. prison population, making up more than 60 percent of the people behind bars.Despite being only 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, 40 percent of those who are incarcerated are black. Latinos represent 16 percent of the overall population but 19 percent of those who are incarcerated. On the other hand, whites make up 64 percent of the overall population but account for only 39 percent of those who are incarcerated.
     
  • People of color are more likely to become entangled in the criminal justice system. Among black males born in 2001, one in three will go to prison at some point during their lifetimes; one in six Latino males will have the same fate. By contrast, only 1 out of every 17 white males is expected to go to prison. A similar pattern exists among women: 1 in 111 white women, 1 in 18 black women, and 1 in 45 Latina women will go to prison at some point. Furthermore, African Americans are 2.5 timesmore likely to be arrested than whites.
     
  • The so-called War on Drugs has disproportionately affected people of color. Despite using and selling drugs at rates similar to those of their white counterparts, African Americans and Latinos comprise 62 percent of those in state prisons for drug offenses and 72 percent of those sentenced for federal drug trafficking offenses, which generally carry extreme mandatory minimum sentences.
     
  • People of color, particularly black males, face longer sentences than their white non-Hispanic counterparts for similar crimes. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, between 2007 and 2011, sentences for black males were 19.5 percent longer than those for whites. Furthermore, black men were 25 percent less likely to receive sentences below the sentencing guidelines for the crime of which they were convicted.
     
  • During traffic stops, people of color are more likely to be searched than their white counterparts. National survey data show that blacks and Latinos are three times more likely to be searched than whites. Blacks are searched in 6 percent of traffic stops and Hispanics are searched in 7 percent of stops, whereas whites are searched only 2 percent of the time.
     
  • Students of color continue to face harsher punishments at school than their white non-Hispanic counterparts. A 2010 study found that more than 70 percent of students who are “involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement” are black or Latino. Furthermore, black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. During the 2011-12 school year, 16 percent of black K-12 students were suspended, compared with 7 percent of Latino students and 5 percentof white students.
     
  • People of color are extremely overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. According to a 2014 report on racial discrimination in America, juveniles of color represented 67 percent of “juveniles committed to public facilities nationwide,” nearly twice their share of the juvenile population. Despite comprising only 15 percent of the juvenile population, black juveniles were arrested two times more often than their white counterparts.
     
  • Voting restrictions on the formerly incarcerated have disenfranchised millions of voters, particularly African Americans. Today, approximately 5.9 million people are not able to vote due to felony convictions. While laws vary from state to state—with some allowing for restoration of voting rights—1 in 13 blacks nationwide are disenfranchised due to felony convictions. In Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than one in five black adults are denied the right to vote.

These glaring disparities in the application of justice have real consequences for the nation as a whole. Mass incarceration is not sustainable, and evidence does not support the theory that harsh punishments effectively reduce crime or recidivism rates. Recent events have brought this issue to the forefront, and reform has garnered support along the ideological spectrum. It is time to take steps to reduce the disparate impact that the American criminal justice system has on people of color and institute reforms that apply justice fairly and equitably for all.

Jamal Hagler is the Special Assistant for Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress.

To speak with their experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Liz Bartolomeo (poverty, health care) 
202.481.8151 or lbartolomeo@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention) 
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education) 
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tanya Arditi (immigration, Progress 2050, race issues, demographics, criminal justice, Legal Progress) 
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, TalkPoverty.org, faith) 
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Print: Elise Shulman (oceans) 
202.796.9705 or eshulman@americanprogress.org

Print: Benton Strong (Center for American Progress Action Fund) 
202.481.8142 or bstrong@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Jennifer Molina
202.796.9706 or jmolina@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Léalo en español

This NY Bill Could Effectively Make You a Felon If You're Arrested During a Protest

A subtle change in New York State law could stop #BlackLivesMatter in its tracks.

On Sunday, The New York Postand NY1 reported that the NYPD’s push to make resisting arrest a felony had officially been introduced as a bill before the New York State senate. After both Commissioner Brattonand NYPDpolice union simultaneously trial-ballooned a similar law change a few weeks ago, the plan to make “aggravated” resisting arrest a felony is officially moving forward after State Senator Tony Avella proposed Bill S04260, that would render anyone who “resisted arrest” more than twice in a ten year span a felon. As the Post spelled out:

Resisting arrest will lead to harsher penalties under legislation proposed by a Queens Democrat. State Sen. Tony Avella is behind a bill that would create a felony charge — “aggravated resisting arrest” — for people who have been convicted of resisting arrest twice in a 10-year period.

The justification for the new measures, in typical NYPD victim-blaming spin, is being presented a  a way of preventing future Eric Garners:

The legislation is in response to protests last December following a Staten Island grand jury decision not to charge a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The bill is based off a letter the Lieutenants Benevolent Association sent to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in January requesting an “aggravated resisting” charge.

“This helps everybody,” LBA President Louis Turco told The Post. “Civilians don’t get hurt and officers don’t get hurt.”

Setting aside the now all-too-routine fact that police policy is largely directed by the unelected NYPD brass and then later driven through by compliant state legislators, such a policy would have deeply troubling implications. First off, making resisting arrest a felony would severely and disportionately affect communities of color. As WYNC reported last December, resisting arrest - like all facets of our justice system - is not applied evenly among class and race:

NYPD officers appear to be far more likely to file resisting arrest charges against black suspects than white suspects — with dramatic differences in some parts of the city, according to a WNYC Data News analysis of court records.

Law enforcement experts say resisting arrest charges are a strong indicator that an arrest went bad and a cop had to use force. So, with the death of Eric Garner over the summer during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes, WNYC's Data News team analyzed court records to look at who gets charged with resisting arrest.

ead Full Story