Attorney General Eric Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder

The United States of America has a criminal justice problem. We imprison more people than any other nation—about one out of every 100 US citizens is behind bars. The likelihood that these criminals will return to prison hovers around 40 percent.

Last week, in a speech at Georgetown law school, Attorney General Eric Holder called on states to repeal laws that ban felons from voting after they have served their sentences. He argued against the disenfranchisement of these citizens, making the case that allowing them to vote would facilitate their integration back into society. “These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive,” he said. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”

It seems logical that after serving their sentence, felons should reassume voting rights, as their punishment has been served and they must reenter and engage with their communities. They should have a voice in the government and in their representatives.

It’s about time the federal government began to address the discrepancies and injustices that have been embedded into the American election system. The laws that Holder addressed eerily recall the attempts to prevent African Americans from voting that pervaded the South after Reconstruction. Today, these laws ban almost one out in 13 African-Americans from voting, and in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, one in five black adults are denied voting rights.

Alongside the introduction of voter suppression laws that cropped up in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida during the 2012 election cycle, this type of legislation seems to have racially motivated undertones and dangerous consequences for the definition of citizenship, liberty, and equality. Holder should work with President Obama to counter these outdated, racist laws that undermine the democracy in America.

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2 Comments

  1. Is the act of committing a crime breaking the social contract?

    If so, then why should criminals have a part in our society? If not–because serving a sentence is complying with the contract–then is it not a violation of that contract to extirpate the right of a consenting member of society’s right to participate in collective decision making?

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