Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

The Strange Career of Jim Crow (Yankee Edition)

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NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice has published an important new report, Jim Crow in New York, tracing the history and ongoing impact of New York’s racially-motivated felon disenfranchisement laws. The report demonstrates that “Jim Crow was not confined to the South” (p. 4) and that he is not dead. The upshot (p. 14):

The mandatory criminal disenfranchisement provision put in place in 1874 is nearly identical to the provision that remains the law in New York today, and it continues to have its intended effects. The current law in New York denies the right to vote to any citizen in prison or on parole. Nearly 80% of those who have lost their right to vote under New York’s law are African-American and Hispanic. Almost half of those disenfranchised are out of prison, living in the community.

Restoring voting rights to those who are in the community increases public safety. Many law enforcement and criminal justice officials are speaking out against disenfranchisement because they recognize that bringing people into the political process makes them stakeholders, which helps steer former offenders away from future crimes.

Criminal disenfranchisement laws also harm families and entire communities. Studies show that denying the vote to one person has a ripple effect across families, dramatically decreasing the political power of urban and minority communities.

The New York Times covers the Brennan Center report here; earlier, I blogged here about ongoing litigation over felon disenfranchisement in Washington State. For comparative context, an interesting scholarly article on Southern felon disenfranchisement laws is available for download here, entitled “‘A Chicken-Stealer Shall Lose His Vote’: Disfranchisement for Larceny in the South, 1874-1890,” by Pippa Holloway. And finally, for a broader version of the argument that collateral consequences for felony convictions add up to a new form of legal segregation, see Michelle Alexander’s new book The New Jim Crow.

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  1. [...] population, they make up 1/3 of the incarcerated population in the Bluegrass State. I’ve blogged before on felon disenfranchisement, and as I noted then — and it’s worth repeating — felon disenfranchisement laws [...]


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