Skip to main content

Reply to "Should felons be allowed to vote?"

The 15th would seem to be relevant here, given the stats...
Amendment XV

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


As one might expect, the number of people disenfranchised reflects to some extent the number of people involved in criminal activity. But the proportion of the population that is disenfranchised has been exacerbated in recent years by the advent of harsh sentencing policies such as mandatory minimum

sentences, "three strikes" laws and truth-in-sentencing laws. Although crime rates have been relatively stable, these laws have increased the number of offenders sent to prison and the length of time they serve.


If these incarceration rates remain unchanged, Department of Justice data indicate that an estimated one in twenty of today's children will serve time in a prison during his or her lifetime and will be disenfranchised for at least the period of incarceration.33 The total number of disenfranchised will be substantially greater because it will also include felons on probation in the twenty-nine states that disenfranchise those on probation.

Racially Disproportionate Incarceration Rates

The strikingly disproportionate rate of disenfranchisement among African American men reflects their disproportionate rate of incarceration. The rate of imprisonment for black men in 1996 was 8.5 times that of white men: black men were confined in prison at a rate of 3,098 per 100,000 compared to a white rate of 370.34 Even more strikingly, in the past ten years the black men's rate increased ten times the white men's increase.

If current rates of incarceration remain unchanged, 28.5 percent of black men will be confined in prison at least once during their lifetime, a figure six times greater than that for white men. As a result, nearly three in ten adult African American men will be temporarily or permanently deprived of the right to vote. But the total numbers of disenfranchised will be greater because, as noted above, it will include a substantial percentage of those convicted of a felony but not receiving a prison sentence (e.g., sentenced to probation). In states that disenfranchise ex-felons, we estimate that 40 percent of the next generation of black men is likely to lose permanently the right to vote.

We have not developed estimates of the number and racial composition of disenfranchised women. The rates for black women are also likely to be quite disproportionate, though on a smaller scale than black men. This is a result both of increasing rates of criminal justice supervision of women, in general, and higher rates overall for black women, in particular. Although women represent 15 percent of all persons under correctional supervision, their numbers have been growing at faster rates than for men in recent years. Among sentenced prisoners the rate of incarceration for women grew by 182 percent in the period 1985-1995, compared to an increase of 103 percent for men. Since black women are incarcerated at a rate eight times that of white women, the effect of these increases is magnified for them.

The increased rate of black imprisonment is a direct and foreseeable consequence of harsher sentencing policies, particularly for violent crimes, and of the national "war on drugs." Although the black proportion of arrestees for violent crimes has remained relatively stable over the past two decades, blacks nonetheless continue to constitute a disproportionately large percentage of those arrested for violent crimes (43 percent in 1996); their incarceration rate in part reflects the longer sentences imposed for those crimes. But drug control policies that have led to the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of tens of thousands of African Americans represent the most dramatic change in factors contributing to their disproportionate rate of incarceration. Although drug use and selling cuts across all racial, socio-economic and geographic lines, law enforcement strategies have targeted street-level drug dealers and users from low-income, predominantly minority, urban areas. As a result, the arrest rates per 100,000 for drug offenses are six times higher for blacks than for whites. Although the black proportion of all drug users is generally in the range of 13 to15 percent, blacks constitute 36 percent of arrests for drug possession. Under harsh drug sentencing policies, convictions for drug offenses have led to predictable skyrocketing in the numbers of blacks in prison. In 1985 there were 16,600 blacks in state prisons for drug offenses; by 1995 the number had reached 134,000. Between 1990 and 1996, 82 percent of the increase in the number of black federal inmates was due to drug offenses.

Illegal, noun:

A term used by the descendents of European Immigrants to refer to descendants of Native Americans

Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch

Cauca, Colombia