The notion of “civil death” for convicted felons, an age-old practice enforced since the first developments of the state criminal law, has ultimately been passed down from ancient Roman legal traditions. While in certain cases such punishments may be debated as being fair, the fact that inmates and released felons alike are so deliberately denied rights long after their dues to society have been paid is an argument at the forefront of the ever-ongoing Civil Rights Movement.
The fact that over five million U.S. citizens are currently under a correctional program of some sort and are being denied their most fundamental rights because of it is an ongoing debate in terms of socio-political exclusion. With the inmate population growing rapidly, it is a problem that is bound to keep progressing.
In fact, the United States, the so-called “prison nation,” has some of the harshest felon rights restrictions in the world. The fact that the majority of felons are minority only further adds controversy to the debate. As advocates of felon rights will persistently argue, though, such harsh punishments are a violation of what the U.S. Constitution stands for.
Imprisonments and monetary fines often come hand in hand with a felony conviction. What many criminals fail to realize, however, is that sometimes the civil rights revoked are necessary to maintain public safety.
Issues with Employment
In the simplest sense, convicted criminals are bound to encounter certain obstacles when looking for employment with a felony charge on their criminal record. While certain jobs are immediately deemed somewhat inaccessible for that individual, at least temporarily, like licensed professions and jobs in law enforcement, among others, other jobs may be accessible immediately upon release back into society.
The act of taking away voting rights of convicted felons, known as felon disenfranchisement, has ultimately been around since the first developments of the legal system in America. Currently, the practice affects approximately five million people yearly, the majority, in fact, of which are no longer incarcerated. While State laws regarding a felon’s suffrage will often vary quite drastically, in general any individual charged and sentenced with a felony will immediately have their right to vote revoked.
Although most laws allow this right to be reinstated once a felon has completed his or her allotted sentence and all conditions regarding the sentence, including fines, have been met, there are still many states across the nation which place strict voting restrictions for criminals, ones which often extend long past their release from prison. Even with the creation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made discriminatory voting procedures illegal, lifting strict felon disenfranchisement was not included in the Act.
Criticisms of Felony Disenfranchisement
Any proponent of civil rights will debate that, according to the Bill of Rights, denying any citizens, regardless of whether or not they have been convicted of a felony, the right to vote is very simply unconstitutional. The fact that felon disenfranchisement, one of many “civil deaths” dating back to the earliest of ancient Roman legal traditions, serves no real purpose once a felon has completed his or her sentence and only adds to the unjust nature of the laws, especially in states which support permanent disenfranchisement or have very strict conditions surrounding felon suffrage.
What this equates to, essentially, is about one in every forty or so U.S. citizens not being able to vote because of a felony conviction at some point in their lives. In larger numbers, that is over five million denied participation in the political process.
The option of parole for inmates in the U.S. has been been around in law since the early 20th Century. If convicted felons have maintained good behavior while in prison, they will be eligible for an early release, known as parole.
Even though probation and parole are often confused as being one in the same by many, mainly because the supervised conditions which apply to life outside of prison are fairly similar, probational sentences imply that an individual convicted of a crime is given the option to an alternative correctional program instead of being completely incarcerated. Typically, the convicted criminals offered probation have committed minor offenses.
While there is a certain amount of freedom which comes associated with probation, it is purely conditional. If an offender violates any of the rules and regulations attached to the probation, he or she will be at risk of going back to prison if the probational officer (along with a court, essentially) deems it necessary.
The majority of offenders on probation will have various limitations enforced as part of their program, including, but not limited to, restrictions on travel, living situations, and employment. Community service and routine fine payments are also staples of probational programs. In addition, the offender will have to regularly report his or her progress to a probation officer. In the best case scenarios, if the convicted individual shows superb behavior, he or she may be suggested for early probation discharge