There's nothing "tough on crime" about felon disfranchisement
June 22, 2005
We have dedicated our careers to promoting strong, just and effective law enforcement. But we oppose felon disfranchisement: the practice of denying prisoners and former prisoners of the right to vote.
As African-American and Latino law enforcement personnel, we know full well the devastation that is wrought upon minority neighborhoods when prisoners are not rehabilitated. And stripping prisoners and former prisoners of the right to vote undermines the aims of rehabilitation.
It frustrates them in their efforts to reintegrate into society.
It distances them from the larger community.
And it serves no educational -- only a punitive -- function.
Effective law enforcement means pursuing policies that will actually reduce crime. Felon disfranchisement laws do not make communities or correctional facilities any safer. Instead, they reinforce racial disparities in sentencing, and they reinforce racial disparities in voting rates.
Our law enforcement organizations support the full realization of equal opportunity in the political process. For this reason, we are supporting the plaintiffs in a federal appeals court in New York. A panel of judges there are hearing arguments in two cases (Muntaqim v. Coombe and Hayden v. Pataki) that ask whether the Voting Rights Act can challenge New York's tradition of depriving the right to vote to individuals convicted of a felony.
Our position would in no way affect the length of the sentences that the incarcerated plaintiffs will serve for their crimes, or the length of their parole supervision. Nor would it adversely affect the quality of life of the communities where former felons reside.
Quite the contrary.
By giving former felons a stake in our democracy, it would help restore the health of these communities.
Above all, this is about enforcing the protections of the Voting Rights Act for black and Latino voters. The effect of felon disfranchisement in New York City neighborhoods is to minimize the collective voting strength of black and Latino voters.
This discriminatory outcome cuts at the basic principle of this country: one person, one vote.
The wholesale disenfranchisement of felons must come to an end.
They should be able to participate again in our democracy.
Ronald Hampton is executive director of the National Black Police Officers Association. Anthony Miranda is President of National Latino Officers Association of America. They can be reached at email@example.com.