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Punishment and Democracy: Disenfranchisement of Nonincarcerated Felons in the United States

  • Jeff Manza (a1) and Christopher Uggen (a2)

As levels of criminal punishment have risen in the United States, more and more citizens have been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. This paper provides an overview and analysis of the unique practice of felon disenfranchisement in the United States today. We focus in particular on the political impact of disenfranchising large numbers of nonincarcerated felons—those who have served their entire sentences and those living in their home communities while completing a term of probation or parole. Our discussion is organized around three key issues relating to felon disenfranchisement: (1) the historical and legal origins of this practice; (2) its practical political impact on recent elections; and, (3) the racial dynamics that color both the history and contemporary effects of felon disenfranchisement in the United States. We discuss how felon disenfranchisement laws in many states appear to be out of step with both international practices and public opinion in the United States and consider contemporary policy proposals.Jeff Manza is the coauthor, with Clem Brooks, of Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions. With Jeff Manza, Christopher Uggen is coauthor of the forthcoming Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy. Research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (No. 9819015) and from the Individual Project Fellowship Program of the Open Society Institute. The authors are indebted to the editors and anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments and suggestions and to Angela Behrens and Sara Wakefield for research assistance.

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Perspectives on Politics
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