Losing the vote; how felon disenfranchisement laws rob blacks of the right to vote
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Losing the vote; how felon disenfranchisement laws rob blacks of the right to vote

September 28, 2010, 12:03 am
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The US imprisons more people than other western nations and a disproportionate number is minority
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By Reynold N. Mason

  At the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago in 2008 candidate Obama gave a speech highly critical of absent black fathers. He urged them to remember their filial responsibilities and be more engaged in raising their children. “But if we are honest with ourselves”, he said   “we'll admit that what too many fathers also are missing - missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men”. We know the statistics - that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it".  It is true that many black fathers are absent. But they are absent not because they lack filial instincts but because many of them are in jail, and when they are released they are in effect dead. Felony conviction results in loss of federal rights to vote, sit on juries, run for or hold public office, as well loss of numerous other privileges enjoyed by ordinary citizens. The loss of one’s civil rights after conviction for a felony is most pernicious. It precludes one from participating in the affairs of his community and country.  A right which, since the civil right Act of 1964, all Americans take for granted. Black men are indeed absent in large numbers from the lives of their children but much of the blame must be placed on the justice system which has a disparate impact on people of color.

Last year a group of black and hispanic men challenged in the Massachusetts law that stripped them of the right to vote while in prison because the law had more of a negative impacted on African Americans and Hispanics. There was a higher proportion of these minorities in prison than their proportion of the Massachusetts population, so proportionately many more minorities were denied the vote than whites. In turning back the challenge the court said “Criminals behind bars have no business deciding who should govern the law-abiding citizens of the Commonwealth.   This proposed amendment will ensure that criminals pay their debt to society before they regain their right to participate in the political process". Currently, thirty-five states prevent felons from voting while on parole or probation or both.   Eleven states disenfranchise felons beyond the term of their prison, probation, and parole. Two states strip felons of the right to vote for life

The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.3 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails -- a 500% increase over the past thirty years several times as many per capita as other Western nations, and many more than any other nation in the world.

Although blacks comprise 13% of the population, and 14% of monthly drug users, they account for 37% of drug arrests..    Blacks are arrested for drug offenses at rates 2 to 11 times higher than the rates for whites.    African Americans account for 56% of people in state prison for drug offenses.   The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that a black male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail;  Latino males have a 17% chance and white males have a 6% chance. Despite black youth accounting for 16% of the juvenile youth population, they are 28 % of the arrests and, 37 % of the youth in jails and 58 % of youth sent to adult prisons. More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.  (These numbers come from studies conducted by the Sentencing Project, a non-profit research and advocacy group.) As a result a disproportionately high number of minorities caught up in the cock-eyed system of justice and are deprived of their right to vote in large numbers. The Sentencing Project   estimates that 5 million persons will be barred from casting their ballot in the upcoming midterm elections, because they have been disenfranchised due to a felony conviction.  George W. Bush won election to the presidency in 2000 and 2004 by margins of less than 5 million votes.

The Sentencing Project looked at the numbers of blacks deprived of the right to vote due to conviction of a felony and the numbers tell a sad story.  In Connecticut  0.86% of the population have been disenfranchised  as against 6.2% of blacks;  in Delaware 7.54 % overall  but 19.3% of blacks; Florida 9.01% overall, 18% of blacks;  Iowa 5.39 % overall 33.98% of blacks;  Kentucky 5.97% overall 23% of blacks;  Nebraska  4.77% overall 22% of blacks;  Rhode Island 2.5% overall 18.86% of blacks;  Virginia 6.70% overall 19.76% of blacks.  In every state, the proportion of blacks who have lost their right to vote is far out of proportion to that of whites.  President Obama overlooked a far more important story in his father’s day message, the story of blacks being banished by the blight of discrimination nearly a half century after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. President Obama and President Clinton have both admitted violating drug laws. The statistics suggest that President Obama might have found himself trapped in the system that, by and large, is responsible for unfairly keeping black men locked away from their families. Yes, black men are absent, and as Candidate Obama said in his 2008 father’s day rebuke to black men “the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. You and I know this is true everywhere, but nowhere is this more true than in the African American community."





Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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