aside Felons Being Incarcerated Has Tripled In Numbers Over The Past Three Decades

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The tripled incarceration rates over the past three decades give new meaning to the words, “build it and they will come.  Republicans have been hard at work looking for ways to suppress the votes of minority peoples who vote mostly for the democratic ticket. Since approximately 33 percent of African-American men have been convicted of a felony, wherever possible, republicans have been instituting laws to bar convicted felons who have served their time in prison from having access to the voting booth.

As per Wikipedia, In 2015, just 8% of the nearly 1.53 million state and federal prisoners in the U.S. were in private facilities, up slightly from 5% in 1999. State inmates make up the majority of the U.S. private prison population, as well as the overall U.S. prison population.

Around August 2016, the former democratic President Barack Obama ordered the Justice Department to phase out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found the private facilities have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government.

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As per a February 23, 2017 Reuters report, “The U.S. Department of Justice has reversed an order by the Obama administration to phase out the use of private contractors to run federal prisons..”

“In a memo made public on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Obama policy impaired the government’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal prison system (incarcerations rates have started to decline).”

The Obama administration said in August 2016 it planned a gradual phase-out of private prisons by letting contracts expire or by scaling them back to a level consistent with recent declines in the U.S. prison population. It said privately operated prisons were less safe and a poor substitute for government-run facilities.”

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As per Wikipedia, “In the national elections in 2012, the various state felony disen-franchisement laws together blocked an estimated 5.85 million felons from voting, up from 1.2 million in 1976. This comprised 2.5% of the potential voters in general.” On December 1, 2017, David Trilling of the Harvard Kennedy School Journalist’s resource penned the following updated report, “Number of U.S. felons tripled in three decades.”

“A growing share of Americans have felony records, according to data recently published in the journal Demography. Among African Americans, the ratio is much higher: Approximately 33 percent of African-American men have been convicted of a felony. The findings raise questions about the criminal justice system amid a “historic increase in criminal punishment,” the authors say.”


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“A felony is a crime more serious than a misdemeanor, and can include a wide array of offenses depending on local legislation, from marijuana possession to murder. Though not all felons serve time in prison, a conviction can have far-reaching ramifications. “Many of the collateral consequences of punishment — most notably for the labor market, housing, and access to public supports — flow not from incarceration experiences but from the application of a widely known and publicly disseminated felony label.” In some states, people with felonies are also denied the right to vote.

“The authors pair the limited available Justice Department data on convictions, incarcerations and recidivism with death, mobility and deportation rates to draw estimates for 1980 to 2010, though some of their data date back to 1948. They focus on African Americans and the population as a whole.”

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  • “In 2010, 7.3 million U.S. adults were in prison or had been to prison.”
  • “Between 1980 and 2010, the adult male population that had spent time in prison jumped from 1.79 to 5.55 percent. For African-American men, that figure rose from 5.76 to 15.14 percent.”
  • “Between 1980 and 2010, the adult male population that had received a felony conviction rose from 5.25 percent to 12.81 percent. For African-American men, the number soared from 13.29 to 33.01 percent.”
  • “By 2010, the five states with the highest number of African-American felons (men and women) were California, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts and Washington. In each, over 20 percent of African Americans were convicted felons.”
  • “Maine was the state with the lowest rate of African-American felony convictions.”Related image
  • Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

“It has been common practice in the United States to make felons ineligible to vote, in some cases permanently. Over the last few decades, the general trend has been toward reinstating the right to vote at some point, although this is a state-by-state policy choice. (See Recent State Action below for a chronology.)”

“Currently, state approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously. NCSL has divided states into four categories, as detailed in Table 1 below.”

“In all cases, “automatic restoration” does not mean that voter registration is automatic. Typically prison officials automatically inform election officials that an individual’s rights have been restored. The person is then responsible for re-registering through normal processes. Some states, California is one example, require that voter registration information be provided to formerly incarcerated people.”

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In summary:

  • “In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated.”
  • “In 14 states and the District of Columbia, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release.”

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  • “In 22 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation. Voting rights are automatically restored after this time period. Former felons may also have to pay any outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored as well.”
  • “In 12 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, or face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) before voting rights can be restored. These states are listed in the fourth category on Table 1. Details on these states are found in Table 2 below.”




Maine District of Columbia Alaska Alabama
Vermont Hawaii Arkansas Arizona
Illinois California (2) Delaware
Indiana Colorado Florida
Maryland (3) Connecticut Iowa
Massachusetts Georgia Kentucky
Michigan Idaho Mississippi
Montana Kansas Nebraska
New Hampshire Louisiana Nevada
North Dakota Minnesota Tennessee
Ohio Missouri Virginia
Oregon New Jersey  Wyoming
Pennsylvania New Mexico
Rhode Island New York
Utah North Carolina
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

(1) Details on the process for restoration of rights is included in Table 2 below.

(2) In 2016, California passed legislation allowing those in county jails to vote while incarcerated, but not those in state or federal prison.


Alabama A crime of “moral turpitude” is a permanently disenfranchising crime in the Alabama Constitution (Ala. Const. Art. VIII, § 177). Before 2017 there was no comprehensive list of felonies that involve moral turpitude which would disqualify a person from voting. In 2017, HB 282 defined which crimes fit this category (Ala. Code § 17-3-30.1).
Arizona A conviction for a felony suspends the rights of the person to vote (A.R.S. § 13-904) unless they have been restored to civil rights (Ariz. Const. Art. 7 § 2). First time offenders have rights restored upon completion of probation and payment of any fine or restitution (A.R.S. § 13-912). A person who has been convicted of two or more felonies may have civil rights restored by the judge who discharges him at the end of the term of probation or by applying to the court for restoration of rights (A.R.S. § 13-905).
Delaware People who are convicted of disqualifying felonies (murder, bribery, sexual offenses) are permanently disenfranchised. Those disqualified as a voter because of another type of felony shall have the disqualification removed upon being pardoned or after the expiration of the sentence, whichever comes first (Del. Const., Art. 5, § 2). In 2013 (HB 10) Delaware removed its five-year waiting period, allowing those convicted of non-disqualifying offenses to vote upon completion of sentence and supervision.
Florida Upon conviction of a felony, the civil rights of the person convicted shall be suspended in Florida until such rights are restored by a full pardon, conditional pardon, or restoration of civil rights by the governor (Flor. Const. Art. 4 § 8, F.S.A. § 944.292). The Executive Clemency Board sets the rules for restoration of civil rights, which includes a 5- or 7-year waiting period, depending on the seriousness of the offense. There is a list of crimes for which an individual may never apply for rights restoration.
Iowa A person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector (Iowa Const. Art. 2, § 5). In 2016 the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the ban on felon voting, finding that all felonies are “infamous crimes” resulting in permanent disenfranchisement (Griffin v. Pate, 2016). The ability of the governor to restore voting rights to persons convicted of infamous crimes through pardoning power was upheld in State v. Richardson, 2017. In 2005 Governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to individuals with former felony convictions via executive order. Governor Terry Branstad reversed this executive order in 2011.
Kentucky “Persons convicted of treason, or felony, or bribery in an election, or of such high misdemeanor as the General Assembly may declare shall operate as an exclusion from the right of suffrage, but persons hereby excluded may be restored to their civil rights by executive pardon” (KY Const. § 145). Governor Steve Beshear restored voting rights to individuals with former non-violent felony convictions via executive order in 2015. Governor Matt Bevin reversed this executive order shortly after taking office in 2015. The Department of Corrections is required to promulgate administrative regulations for restoration of civil rights to eligible felony offenders (KRS §196.045).
Mississippi “A person convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy is no longer considered a qualified elector” (Miss. Const. Art. 12, § 241). If an individual hasn’t committed one of these offenses, rights are automatically restored. If an individual has been convicted of one of these, he or she can still receive a pardon from the governor to restore voting rights (Miss. Code Ann. § 47-7-41) or by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature (Miss. Const. Art. 12, § 253).
Nebraska In felony cases, there is a two-year waiting period after completion of probation for the restoration of voting rights (Neb. Rev. St. § 29-2264).
Nevada First-time, non-violent offenders have rights restored upon completion of sentence. Those that have committed a violent crime or two or more felonies may petition a court to grant the restoration of civil rights (N.R.S. 213.157).
Tennessee The Tennessee Constitution denies the right to vote persons convicted of an infamous crime (Tenn. Const. Art. 1, § 5). Any felony is considered an “infamous crime” and disqualifies a person from exercising the right of suffrage (T.C.A. § 40-20-112). Those convicted of infamous crimes may petition for restoration upon completion of the sentence or be pardoned by the governor (T.C.A. § 40-29-101, § 2-19-143). Proof of restoration is needed in order to register to vote (T.C.A. § 2-2-139).
Virginia No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority (VA Const. Art. 2, § 1). The Department of Corrections is required to provide persons convicted of felonies with information regarding voting rights restoration, and assist with the process established by the governor for the review of applications (VA Code Ann. § 53.1-231.1 et seq.). In 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their prison sentence and their term of supervised release (parole or probation) as of April 22, 2016. The Virginia Supreme Court subsequently ruled that rights restoration needs to take place on an individual basis, rather than en masse.
 Wyoming A person convicted of a felony is not a qualified elector unless his rights are restored (W.S. § 6-10-106). For persons convicted of nonviolent felonies or a first-time offender, rights are restored automatically (W.S. § 7-13-105).   Persons who do not meet the above qualifications must be pardoned (W.S. § 6-10-106).



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AG Jeff Sessions

(As per Ballotpedia, The Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative (Initiative #14-01) may appear on the ballot in Florida as an initiated constitutional amendment on November 6, 2018.)

(“The measure would restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.”)

“As of 2017, people with prior felonies never regain the right to vote, until and unless a state board restores an individual’s voting rights.”

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“In 2017, Alabama HB 282 provided a list of felonies that involve “moral turpitude” that disqualify a person from exercising his or her right to vote. Previously there was no comprehensive, authoritative source for defining a disenfranchising crime in Alabama.”

“In 2017, Wyoming enacted HB75 automatically restoring the rights of nonviolent felons.”

“In 2017, Louisiana enacted HB 168 improving reporting requirements between The Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the Department of State.”

“In 2016, California passed legislation allowing those in county jails to vote while incarcerated, but not state or federal prison. In 2017 California passed additional    legislation requiring information be provided about voting rights restoration on the internet and in person to felons exiting prison.”

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“In 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their prison sentence and their term of supervised release (parole or probation) as of April 22. This decision was a source of contention with the legislature. In July 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the order.”

“In 2016, Maryland’s legislature enacted HB 980 and SB 340 (overriding a veto) so that voting rights are automatically restored after completion of the term of incarceration.”

“In 2015, outgoing Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed an executive order to automatically restore the right to vote (and to hold public office) to certain offenders, excluding those who were convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery, or treason. The order was reversed by incoming Governor Matt Bevin.”

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“In 2015, Wyoming enacted HB 15 requiring the department of corrections to issue a certification of restoration of voting rights to certain non-violent felons after completion of sentence.”

“In 2013, Delaware eliminated the five-year waiting period before voting rights are restored.”

“In 2013, Virginia Governor McDonnell signed an executive order creating new rights restoration processes for persons with prior felony convictions.”

“In 2012, South Dakota mandated that felons on probation would not have voting rights restored. Previously, only felons on parole or incarcerated had their voting rights suspended.”

“In 2011, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency (comprised of the governor and three cabinet members) reversed a 2007 policy change that automatically restored voting rights to non-violent offenders upon the completion of their sentence. The new policy requires that all ex-felons wait between five and seven years depending on the crime before applying to regain voting rights.”

In Iowa, the governor in 2011 reversed an executive order issued in 2005 under the previous governor. The 2005 order automatically restored the voting rights of all ex-felons, but under the 2011 order they will now have to apply to regain rights.

In 2011 in Tennessee, HB 1117 was enacted, adding to the list of felons who are not eligible for automatic restoration.

In 2009, Washington restored the right to vote to felons who completed their sentences, while requiring them to re-register to vote.

Between 1996 and 2008, 28 states passed new laws on felon voting rights.

  • Seven repealed lifetime disenfranchisement laws, at least for some ex-offenders.
  • Two gave probationers the right to vote.
  • Seven improved data-sharing procedures among state agencies.
  • Nine passed requirements that ex-offenders be given information and/or assistance in regaining their voting rights at the time they complete their sentence.
  • Twelve simplified the process for regaining voting rights, for instance, by eliminating a waiting period or streamlining the paperwork process. Related imageAdditional Resource

For more detailed information on state legislation dealing with the voting rights of convicted felons, visit NCSL’s 2011-current Election Legislation Database and select the subtopic “Voters-Felon Voting Rights.” For legislation from the period 2001-2010, visit NCSL’s 2001-2010 Election Legislation Database.


  1. Gronda, excellent post. The book “The New Jim Crow,” speaks to these issues. Blacks are incarcerated for the same crimes Whites with access to better legal help and a lighter skin pigmentation are not.

    The other issue which I mention in my recent post is we are not staffing prisons with adequate numbers and training. With so many prisoners to cover for less than violent crimes, we are stretching our guards to thin. The other byproduct, if we place young men and women in prison with less violent crimes, they have a higher propensity to learn how to become worse criminals.

    Again, great post. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Keith,

      The prison business is an outrage which will not see any improvements under the auspices of The AG Jeff Sessions.

      There is a need for judicial reform but too many republicans resort to their talking points for being strong on law and order, that is until law enforcement agents do their jobs as in the FBI.

      hugs, Gronda


  2. Private contractors are by their nature incapable of running this service. Profit and public incarceration/resettlement are mutually antagonistic. The two dynamics cannot meld for the public good.
    You might as well say all retail stores should be government run to ensure a steady supply of goods.
    Thank you for all your hard work Gronda on keeping such issues alive.


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