In light of the upcoming election, I think it’s important to talk a bit about the connection between disenfranchisement and mass incarceration in the United States. Since watching the 2016 Netflix documentary called 13th and reading Michelle Alexander’s fifth chapter from her book The New Jim Crow, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways mass incarceration will affect the results of the election in just a few days.
Here are a few things that I never knew about mass incarceration and felony disenfranchisement that I believe are important to share with you:
- Although the United States holds only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. holds 25% of the world’s prisoners
- According to Alexander (2012), “…the Census Bureau counts imprisoned individuals as residents of the jurisdiction in which they are incarcerated” (p.193). And considering the fact that many prisons are built in rural areas that are predominantly white, these areas gain higher political representation as a result
- According to the ACLU, there are roughly 5.85 million people with felonies in the U.S. who are without the right to vote
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, disenfranchisement refers to the prevention of a person or group’s right to vote. Political disenfranchisement is not a new tactic when it comes to the deliberate oppression of communities of color by the federal government. As Alexander (2012) points out, we’ve seen various forms of the political disenfranchisement of Blacks throughout history reflected in policies such as poll taxes, literacy tests, voter ID laws, etc. Felony disenfranchisement is no different.
It’s undeniable that the cradle-to-prison pipeline in the age of mass incarceration was created to keep minorities, especially African Americans, oppressed. It seems to be especially successful in keeping communities of color from having a say in who gets to lead our country, and subsequently, which policies are put into place. This feeds into the continuous cycle of Blacks in America being treated as second class citizens.
If we think of the election of each President of the United States as being selected by the American people, but the selection process deliberately leaves out a large portion of Black voters, who are we considering to be “the American people?”