Restoring voting rights of felons is good public policy, VCU expert says

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Last Friday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored the voting and civil rights of 206,000 convicted felons who have served their prison sentences and completed parole or probation, thereby immediately allowing them to register to vote, run for office, serve on a jury and to serve as a notary public.

Christina Mancini, Ph.D., an assistant professor of criminal justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, conducts research examining a diverse range of crime and policy topics. In particular, her scholarship centers on understanding the emergence and efficacy of crime laws and societal responses to offending.

Mancini said that the governor’s decision to restore the ex-felons’ rights is good public policy, backed by research and supported by the public.

The process communicates to the ex-felon that she or he is still part of the community and has a stake in the democratic process.

“Prior research has shown that efforts to assist ex-felons/offenders post-release, by providing them with a ‘stake’ in their future success, has significant promise in reducing their subsequent offending.  Specifically, assisting individuals with employment and finding stable housing substantially increases their odds of conformity – staying on the ‘straight and narrow.’ Under this perspective, it follows that additional investment – civic restoration – provides the same benefit. The process communicates to the ex-felon that she or he is still part of the community and has a stake in the democratic process. Denying voting rights to individuals affects a number of individuals (nearly 6 million prisoners, not to mention that nearly one in four people will have some contact with the justice system in their lifetimes). Thus, the potential for the laws to disenfranchise a large swath of the American public is high.

“The practice is also out of step with international trends, associated with racial disparities in incarceration, and not supported by the public. That is, national studies have demonstrated that most Americans (around 80 percent) support the restoration of voting privileges to ex-offenders.

“In short, the governor’s [move] appears to make for effective public policy as it is in line with prior research and supported by the citizenry. Of course, as researchers we would want to evaluate the law once it is implemented.”


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