My background includes writing and editing letters for causes. These letters are in newspapers and on decision-makers' desks across the US.
What Is Felon Disenfranchisement?
In the game of Monopoly, upon leaving jail, do you forever lose the right to collect $200 when passing "Go"? Do you lose the ability to put hotels on properties because you lost the legal right to obtain all the proper permits? Of course not. I'd surmise that the makers of Monopoly understood that this would give other players an unfair advantage. I mean, wasn't it punishment enough that the offender languished while her competitors bought up properties that could have been hers? In real life, Americans have answered this question with a resounding "NO."
Often, the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of disenfranchisement is the inability to vote. In fact, it encompasses a broad range of laws, and norms, which serve to keep a group from participating in society in the same way as others do. This is clear when reading the Miriam Webster definition of disenfranchisement: "to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, or of some privilege or immunity especially : to deprive of the right to vote."
Convicts, and those close to them, pay backbreaking costs that mean they likely will forever be playing an especially rigged game. Did you know that in many states a convict cannot never even be the executor of a family member's will?
After the court costs, fines, lawyer and probation fees, etc., convicts are often left broke and scrambling to find employment that meets their needs. This means they, and too often their families, require government assistance. I know Americans care about money. Think of the tax money saved if a convict didn't have to keep paying long after his sentence was over.
Taxpayers also pay the costs in other ways when a citizen loses their career of choice, forever, due to running afoul of the law even one time. The government loses out on a great deal of taxpayer money from that banker convicted of felony DUI 20 years ago. I mean, now he may be working whatever contract jobs, etc. he can get, when he would have been paying taxes on a $100,000 annual salary. Then we have the costs of recidivism, and the list goes on.
American Crime Rate
Who would have thought that treating "criminals" like they are less than human results in more criminal behavior? American crime rates are, to a large extent, a reflection upon how we treat felons and those who are just down on their luck.
A portion of probation and parole officers look to entrap their subjects rather than help them. While there are some good people in those professions, the system just isn't set up for those good people to help in ways that are conducive to the goal of reduced recidivism. Should smoking a joint result in several years in prison just because you were caught shoplifting three years ago? Does incarcerating that person make society safer, or benefit society in any way?
Then we have the barriers to housing, employment, and even government assistance that felons face. I think most Americans are at least somewhat familiar with these.
While overall crime statistics are a field in and of themselves, looking at this murder rate chart, we can see that American murder rates are five times greater or more than our European counterparts. Correlating this number to how we treat our ex-felons is complicated, but the facts suggest that American's attitudes about convicts make them more likely to be victims of those same convicts.
Kentucy Gov. Andy Beshear
Ending Convict Disenfranchisement
You may ask why we don't make more effort to end the practices that lead to felon disenfranchisement. Of course, allowing a convicted sex offender to get a daycare license is unacceptable. But, should a lady who got caught with an ounce of weed in the '80s be barred from being a real estate agent? This is the type of nonsensical barrier that so many felons deal with.
Recently, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed an executive order restoring the right for Kentucky felons to vote. This is great news for Kentucky convicts. While the governor cites his religious faith teaching him forgiveness as part of the reason for this action, I venture to guess he's counting on a great number of those convicts voting blue in every election. I think we all understand that not much gets done unless the powers that be see how it can benefit them. Sometimes this can only happen when the public puts sufficient pressure on those powers.
Getting public support behind convict rights is difficult. I attribute some of this to the social dynamics of American felon groups. Unfortunately, felons usually fall into one of a few categories.
First, we have those who take on the convict label and become career criminals. We aren't going to hear much from these people because they drop out of legal society to pursue their life of crime and/or drug addiction. What's more is that no one really cares about hearing from them anyway, other than maybe a few close family members and friends. The sad thing is that many who fall into this group made an attempt at reintegration, but were not helped by the laws that seem tailor-made to keep them in the system.
Then we have a minority of felons who come from families of means. While they are still impacted by the forces of disenfranchisement, they have obvious advantages. One of these being that family may have a solid job with benefits and healthcare waiting for them upon release. We aren't hearing much from these guys.
Finally, we have the ex-cons who do reintegrate into society by finding a way to make it. They get creative by switching careers, working for themselves, taking advantage of help, etc. and manage to make a living. We don't hear much from this group either. I'd say that's because they are busy with the aforementioned, and, perhaps even more accurately, are busy trying to hide their past and put it behind them. That's easier said than done.
For real change concerning felon disenfranchisement, it will take combined efforts of researchers, government officials, felons, and everyday Americans. I reach out to my government officials about these matters, which affect all of us. When I get no reply, they lose my vote. It will take more than a vote here and there. It will take strong lobbying efforts in every state and DC.
Who has the will, and the means, to stand up for what most of us know is right? Right now, we have a hodgepodge of groups making some effort, but nothing on the scale it will take to make real progress.
© 2019 Don Shepard
Kyler J Falk from Corona, CA on May 11, 2020:
Absolutely true, as for older cons they're often given charge of the younger ones and actually given a form of ranking system to promote adherence and participation. It definitely would not suit those who don't get imprisoned.
From your standpoint, yes there should be more incentive for both the companies and the felon to seek recourse. A rough situation as far as budget goes when all the other bits and pieces have their own expensive kinks and quirks. I'll have to think more on the topic from this perspective and perhaps generate my own article on how I would go about solving it.
I appreciate the inspiration!
Don Shepard (author) on May 11, 2020:
Interesting take Mr. Falk. I can't say I disagree entirely though I have some reservations. I think this idea may be better served with younger prison populations as it would likely breed more resentment among older cons. After all, not every convict suffers from a severe lack of discipline or some such. Often times, a one time incident, can land someone in prison and change their life trajectory forever. Also, too often, the only difference between some felons and non-felons is that some got caught, some had the cash to their way out, etc. There certainly is no one- all solution to prison reform. I'd have to do some research to form a more solid opinion on the effects of military style prisons in the US.
As likely garnered from this article, my focus is more on things what happens with felons once they are out of prison, if that felon even went to prison. From this perspective, I think things such as litigation reform that would serve to let employers and leasing companies feel safer doing business with felons, is the number one thing needed to reduce recidivism. Felons need to get out of the "once a con always a con" mindset, and that is difficult when they don't have the same rights as other Americans.
Kyler J Falk from Corona, CA on May 11, 2020:
It's been a long time since I've discussed recidivism, in fact I think it has been since 2013 and that is a problem in and of itself, but at one point I had agreed with myself that a militaristic prison system would be the answer to much of the recidivism. I mean, when I was in recruit training they could breed warriors in as little as six months and would adjust generously to everyone's needs despite what many believe actually happens.
I know they already do this in special prisons, where you have to earn the "privilege" of rehab there, and it tends to work splendidly; but I think that the answer to most of it is allowing them the resources in prison they'll get upon being out, as well as a strict structured system operating toward a positive end-goal for mind, body, and spirit. Basically, they'll learn self-discipline, get in great shape, and be taught how to utilize resources in prison before getting out so they have a nest egg of sorts to land on like a cushion upon release.
I don't know, a really rough topic that I think you've done a fair amount of justice with this piece.