Felony Disenfranchisement News
November 11, 2013 (Aiken Standard)
Blacks arrested at higher rate
A report released this fall by The Sentencing Project suggests that one in every three black men will go to prison in his lifetime.
The report, which discusses racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system, said the country operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. It examines racial disparities in police activity, in trials and in sentencing.
The report indicates that a significant portion of the disparity in arrest rates is attributed to implicit racial bias – unconscious associations people make about racial groups. Also known as stereotypes, the biases occur when people have to make fast decisions with “imperfect” information, and the biases allow people to “fill in” the missing information and make decisions in a limited time.
Dr. Melencia Johnson, a professor of sociology at USC Aiken who focuses on criminology, teaches a class on race, crime and justice.
November 11, 2013 (MintPress News)
Congress Eyes Overhauling Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws
A key Senate leader has announced that, before the end of the year, he will push to move forward on a landmark overhaul of U.S. criminal sentencing guidelines that would aim to significantly cut down the bloated population in federal prisons.
The growing interest in legislative action already constitutes a sea change in the United States’ decades-old “tough on crime” approach, and would include dialing down on long-criticized mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for a range of nonviolent crimes. Most importantly, several new and pending proposals have garnered widespread support from across the political spectrum, leading many observers to expect some sort of legislative action on a major policy issue – needless to say, a rarity in today’s polarized Congress.
“The main drivers of prison growth are front-end sentencing laws enacted by Congress, like the proliferation of mandatory minimum sentences,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated at a hearing on reducing costs at the Bureau of Prisons, the second such hearing in two months.“I am committed to addressing sentencing reform this year, as I know other senators are from both sides of the aisle. It is a problem that Congress created and it is time that we fix it. Public safety demands it.”
Leahy’s remarks come just after the House of Representatives saw the introduction of a key legislative proposal called the Smarter Sentencing Act. Identical legislation was introduced in the Senate in July (one of its sponsors is Leahy himself), underlining the seriousness with which proponents are approaching what has now become a major initiative.
November 4, 2013 (Th Seattle Times)
Women behind bars: State takes a new approach
In Washington State, the treatment of female inmates drastically changed as prisons grew and administrators sought uniformity of treatment regardless of gender. Women who were in prison found themselves treated exactly like their male counterparts, from the clothes they wore to the way corrections officers dealt with them.
Now with the growth of female inmates outpacing that of males and no space to house them, the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) is shifting to more gender-specific treatment of incarcerated women. The changes range from simple — access to a fruity-smelling shampoo and better-fitting clothing, and special bras for inmates who’ve had mastectomies — to more substantive, such as greater focus on substance abuse and mental-health counseling.
The change reflects recognition that gender dictates different treatment of inmates.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all system,” said DOC Secretary Bernie Warner.
“The pathways coming to the system are different for women than men,” he said. “Men are incarcerated for criminal thinking and anti-social behavior. Women come in because of social influences and trauma.”
November 4, 2013 (MSNBC)
Presumed guilty: Formerly incarcerated face barriers to voting rights
When the votes are tallied in Virginia’s race for governor on Tuesday, over 300,000 citizens will be missing from the voting rolls – including 20% of the state’s black population. The reason is not low turnout or voter ID, but a growing and often invisible barrier to voting that is upending elections around the country.
Over 5 million Americans are barred from voting because they have criminal records, according to a report this year from The Sentencing Project.
The crackdown on ballot access is so intense, a majority of states actually bar former convicts from voting even after they are released from prison.
If voting rights were restored to those former inmates, about 4.3 million more Americans would be able to vote. That is over three times margin of victory in the last House midterm elections.
“You have this chunk of voters that’s not there,” explains NBC News political director Chuck Todd. “When you see the decisions that have been made on this issue – and a lot of voting access issues – it’s clear that political partisans are operating on what’s best for their own party’s cause, period,” says Todd.
October 25, 2013 (WFPL News)
Kentucky GOP uncertain about restoration of rights
A Republican leader in the Kentucky Senate says GOP members are not warming to the restoration of voting rights for people with felony convictions despite U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's support of the issue.
The response comes days after Paul staffers said they had been in contact with state lawmakers about the restoration of voting rights.
As a result, earlier this week, Democratic Senator Gerald Neal of Louisville told WFPL he was beginning to see opposition to his proposal wane. Neal's bill would automatically restore the civil rights of certain formerly incarcerated people.
The Sentencing Project estimates nearly a quarter-million Kentuckians with felony convictions were barred from the polls in 2010. Its report noted that disenfrancisement has a disproportionate effect on black voters in particular, with the state holding the highest rate of disenfranchisement among African-Americans in the country at 22 percent.