Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Felons who have served their sentences shouldn’t be blocked from voting by state laws that disproportionately affect minorities, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
“These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive,” Holder said in remarks today in Washington. “These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered but repealed.”
Holder’s push for restoring voting rights of felons is the latest change he’s seeking in long-standing criminal justice policies that he has said do nothing to make Americans safer and have steep costs.
Last year, he announced that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders would no longer be charged with federal crimes that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences. He has also pushed for increased availability of drug-treatment programs and changes in how officials handle former inmates to reduce the numbers who return to crime.
His speech today was before the Leadership Conference Education Fund, a coalition of civil rights organizations, and the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research group, at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington.
About 5.8 million Americans are blocked from voting because of felony convictions, according to a 2012 study by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that researches criminal justice issues. The “impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable,” Holder said.
About 2.2 million blacks -- or one in every 13 -- are banned from voting because they have felony convictions, Holder said.
Voting rights are governed by state law. Two states allow inmates to vote in prison; 37 and the District of Columbia bar inmates or those on parole or probation from voting; 11, mostly in the South, to varying degrees bar ex-felons from ever casting a ballot, even after they have completed their sentences, according to the Sentencing Project.
“I call upon state leaders and other elected officials and leaders across this country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation and paid their fines,” he said.
Restoring voting rights to ex-convicts has benefits beyond allowing them to cast a ballot, according to Holder, who cited a study by a parole commission in Florida that found recidivism rates dropped among those who were permitted to vote again.
“It is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” Holder said.
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