Imprisonment and Disenfranchisement of Disconnected Low-Income Men. Prisoners of Color Are More Likely to Be Disenfranchised

08/01/2013

“Felon disenfranchisement,” as defined by The Sentenc-ing Project, are laws that restrict inpiduals with felony convictions from voting.7 States set their own laws, so the extent that inpiduals with felony-level crimes are disenfranchised by this definition varies by state. Data from The Sentencing Project capture racial disparities in incarceration rates and felony disenfranchisement rates (number of people incarcerated for a felony of-fense as a percentage of the voting-age population) by state.8 All but two states (Maine and Vermont) restrict inmates from voting. However, states vary by how much they also restrict parolees, probationers, and ex-felons from voting. Among four of the more populous states—California, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania—Illinois and Pennsylvania restrict only inmates from voting, while California and New York restrict both in-mates and parolees (Uggen, Shannon, and Manza 2012). The strictest policies forbidding ex-felons from voting in 2010, as well as those incarcerated and those on probation or parole, are found in 11 states, including Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia (figure 4).9

Figure 4. Share of Adult Population Experiencing Felony Disenfranchisement by State, 2010

Share of Adult Population Experiencing Felony Disenfranchisement by State, 2010

 

Source: Authors’ calculations based on Christopher Uggen, Sarah Shannon, and Jeff Manza, State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010 (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2012).

Incarceration and felony disenfranchisement rates vary widely by state

Nationally, African Americans have higher felony disenfran-chisement rates10 than whites, partly because of the higher proportion of African Americans in prison (figure 5). That is, since a higher proportion of African Americans is incar-cerated, a higher proportion of all voting-age African Amer-icans in a state is at risk of felony disenfranchisement. For every white adult incarcerated (in jail or prison) in 2010, there were 5.6 African American prisoners and 1.8 Hispanic prisoners. Similarly, the national felony disenfranchisement rate was 3 percent for all voting-age adults but more than twice as high for all African American voting-age adults (8 percent) (Uggen et al. 2012).

Figure 5. Share of African American Population Experiencing Felony Disenfranchisement by State, 2010

Share of African American Population Experiencing Felony Disenfranchisement by State, 2010

 

Source: Authors’ calculations based on Christopher Uggen, Sarah, Shannon, and Jeff Manza, State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010 (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2012).

Note: African American refers to non-Hispanic African American or black and includes those who identified themselves as black or African American only.

  • Among the more populous states, New York had the highest African American–to-white prisoner incarcera-tion ratio of 9.4 to 1, followed by Pennsylvania andIllinois at 9.2 and 9.1 to 1, respectively. For Hispanic prisoners, the same three states led and Pennsylvania had the highest Hispanic-to-white ratio at 5.6 to 1.
  • The felony disenfranchisement rate for all voting-age African Americans in New York was 2.1 percent, com-pared with 0.7 percent for New York’s total voting-age population. Felony disenfranchisement among voting-age African Americans is similar in Pennsylvania and Illinois at 2.5 and 2.0 percent, respectively, compared with 0.6 and 0.5 percent, respectively, for the states’ total voting-age population.

As described earlier, felony disenfranchisement rates are highest in states with the strictest policies restricting ex-felons from voting.

  • Among the 11 states with the strictest policies, the proportion of the voting-age population that is disen-franchised is quite high. Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee have the highest African American felo-ny disenfranchisement rates. Florida’s rate among vot-ing-age African Americans is 23 percent, while Ken-tucky’s is 22 percent, Virginia’s is 20 percent, and Ten-nessee’s is 19 percent. In each of these four states, the overall felony disenfranchisement rate of voting-age adults is also high at 10.4, 7.4, 7.3, and 7.1 percent, respectively.

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