The Sentencing Project News
February 25, 2014 (Fusion)
The Laws That Are Blocking 1 in 5 African Americans From Voting
An estimated 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting because they have criminal records, according to a report from The Sentencing Project.
The laws that block ex-offenders from the right to vote range state by state. Some individuals that have lost their right to vote have committed serious crimes but in several states a misdemeanor would block you from the voting booth. The issue gained national attention when Attorney General Eric Holder called the laws “unnecessary and unjust.”
See a graphic presentation of who is disproportionately affected by the nation’s current laws here.
February 25, 2014 (The Washington Post)
A cartogram of felony disenfranchisement rates from a report by The Sentencing Project was featured as How Felon Policies Restrict the Black Vote in a graphic overview of “25 maps and charts that explain America today.”
Note Florida, where more than one in five black adults can’t vote. Not because they lack citizenship or haven’t registered, but because they have, at some point, been convicted of a felony. More than 20 percent of black adults have lost their right to vote in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, according to The Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for reforms to sentencing policy that reduce racial disparities.
February 24, 2014 (Al Jazeera)
Restore voting rights
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been taking stands for justice lately, for which he is to be applauded. On Feb. 11, in a speech at Georgetown University, he issued a plea for states to lift bans on voting by ex-offenders, also called returning citizens. On the heels of his earlier suggestion that prosecutors and legislators re-examine mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders and disparities in crack cocaine sentences, this latest call suggests a new pattern of priorities coming out of the office of the attorney general. The New York Times predicted Holder’s suggestions would “elevate issues of criminal justice and race in the president’s second term and create a lasting civil rights legacy.”
Laws that deny ex-offenders the vote have a long and dark history. Although offenders were prevented from voting in most states from the very beginning of the republic, after the Civil War, these laws were greatly expanded in the South — and virtually all those offenders in those states were black.
First, massive numbers of African-Americans were arrested for little or no reason and sent to work, creating an almost limitless supply of effectively free labor. Under newly enhanced (and in some cases newly created) laws, these ex-offenders were then forever after denied the right to vote. This process also planted in the American psyche a viciously tenacious stereotype of African-American criminality. Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, compares these laws and today’s mass incarceration of inmates of color to historical injustices.
February 24, 2014 (allvoices)
In the United States, almost every state bans felons from voting in all elections. This ban varies from state to state, with some easing the restrictions after a waiting period while others shut out former inmates for life.
According to a report from The Sentencing Project, 5.3 million Americans (1 in 40 adults) were unable to vote due to a felony conviction in the 2008 elections. This included 1.4 million African-American men, more than 676,000 women, and 2.1 million ex-offenders who have completed their sentences.
States like Florida, Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa have a permanent ban imposed, exempt only for prisoners who were granted clemency by the governor. Others restore voting rights when inmates finish serving their time. Some states put ex-felons through a complicated process or wait period before they become eligible to vote.
But there is increasing noise by advocates who say barring former prisoners from voting is discriminatory, even unconstitutional. Attorney General Eric Holder has joined in that fight and spoke out on states restoring those rights earlier this month.
February 21, 2014 (The New York Times)
Life Circumstances Level the Sentencing Field
Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, writes in the Room for Debate discussion, Sentencing and the ‘Affluenza’ Factor that “We all stand to gain by having judges consider life circumstances in sentencing, but right now this is a privilege largely for the wealthy.
“The doctor convicted of Medicaid fraud will come to court with a high-priced attorney by his side, but also a sentencing consultant who can describe to the judge a history of mental health distress, and a plan to have the doctor provide free medical care in a disadvantaged community to make restitution for his crime.
February 21, 2014 (Sun Dial)
Hip Hop Think Tank event to bring attention to deportation and incarceration
More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. each year, and nearly 2 million immigrants have been incarcerated since the beginning of the Obama administration in 2008, according to The Sentencing Project and Pew Research Center.
These facts and more will be discussed in depth at the “Bridging the Gaps: Hip-Hop in the Age of Mass Incarceration and Deportation” conference this Thursday and Friday.
California State University’s own Hip-Hop Think Tank, a student organization partnered with the Pan African studies department, will be hosting the conference in an effort to draw parallels between incarceration and deportation.
“At present, the United States has the largest prison population in the world…(and) deportations have intensified over the last decade,” said Anthony Ratcliff, Pan African studies professor and Hip-Hop Think Tank faculty advisor. “In fact, since 2008, after President Obama’s election, two million undocumented immigrants have been deported.
February 21, 2014 (WDAZ TV)
Drug zones stiffen penalties for offenders
State laws that stiffen penalties for making or selling drugs near children vary across the nation.
Some states include universities in those “drug-free zones.” Others include public parks, public housing, school buses and YMCAs. The size of those zones range from 300 feet to half a mile.
In North Dakota, manufacturing a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school, child care center, preschool facility or higher education institution is an aggravating factor that can elevate the charges someone faces. It’s that law that four women are accused of breaking when they were arrested Tuesday, after allegedly making methamphetamine near Schroeder Middle School.
Kathy Joan Kielty, Audrey Marie Morris, Ashley Marie Brown, and Tina Mae Metcalf are all charged with manufacturing meth within 1,000 feet of a school, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“The premise behind drug-free zone laws was that drug trafficking near schools posed a danger to children,” states a policy brief from The Sentencing Project. “In order to protect children from drug activity, lawmakers established protected zones around the places where children were most likely to be present, including schools and public parks.”
February 21, 2014 (Think Progress )
Missouri Likely To Drop Its Lifetime Food Stamps Ban For Drug Convicts
Missouri lawmakers want to end the state’s lifetime food stamps ban for drug felons, a move that would leave the punitive drug war measure in place in just eight states.
A pair of Kansas City Democrats have introduced bills to ease the ban in both chambers of the Missouri legislature. The House version, proposed by Rep. Bonnaye Mims, would require ex-convicts to enter drug treatment programs in order to be readmitted to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rolls. The Republican in charge of the key House committee that will handle the proposal says there is enough support for the idea on his side of the aisle that it can pass, but he intends to swap Mims’ bill out for one of his own that would require drug felons to pass a drug test before have their eligibility restored.
The toll of the state’s ban can be seen in individual residents’ stories. “I can go buy a firearm but I can’t get assistance to buy a sandwich,” Kansas City, MO resident Johnny Waller Jr. told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Waller was convicted of a drug felony at age 18 and served five years in a Nebraska prison for selling marijuana, but when he left his job decades after leaving prison in order to care for a cancer-stricken son he was still ineligible for food aid. “When I needed some assistance, none was available for something I did when I was 18,” Waller said.
February 21, 2014 (PEW Stateline)
Voting Rights on the Table
Kentucky could be heading for a historic change this year as it moves closer to abolishing its law banning felons from voting, thanks to a bipartisan effort in the state Capitol and a big assist from Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
The state has long had among the most restrictive felon voting rules, thus disenfranchising a high percentage of its voting-age population. Black residents have been disproportionately affected — more than one in five of voting age cannot cast a ballot.
A long-running push by voting rights advocates to end these restrictions got a boost from Paul, who this week pushed a compromise in testimony before state lawmakers. Republicans in the legislature, who control the Senate, for the first time agreed to ease the ban.
“It has the best chance it’s ever had,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer.
February 18, 2014 (San Francisco Chronicle)
Why Minorities Are Even More Overrepresented In Private Prisons
A new analysis of America's prison demographics has revealed for-profit prisons jail minorities even more disproportionately than publicly operated prisons.
For-profit prisons — like those operated by Corrections Corporation of America — use contractual provisions to target young, healthy (and therefore more profitable) inmates, the study in the journal "Radical Criminology" found. And younger prisoners tend to be minorities, due to drastic changes in prison demographics over the last 30 years, the study noted.
While minorities are disproportionately incarcerated in all prisons in America — The Sentencing Project, a reform advocacy group, puts the number for racial and ethnic minorities as high as 60% of those imprisoned — the percentage of minorities in private prisons is often higher than 60% in some states' private prisons and reaches 89% in California's private prisons, according to the study recently published in the Journal of Radical Criminology by UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Christopher Petrella.