Voting (In)Justice: Disenfranchising Adults-in-Custody

Jaden Anderson, Sage DeFreitas, and Clare Kessi

Directed by Dr. Vail Fletcher


Our project aimed to highlight the intended and unintended effects related to the systemic civic disenfranchisement of individuals in the United States (U.S.) correctional system. As of December 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 6,613,500 people were under the supervision of state and federal adult correctional systems, including both prisons and parole. Almost 1.6 million of those adults were incarcerated, 20,000 of whom were in state prisons in Oregon. Prison abolitionists and critical researchers alike note that “prison” is not a bounded or self-contained entity that prisoners enter and then exit, but that carceral practices, experiences, and effects are deeply interwoven into the fabric of society (e.g. Davis, 2003; Foucault, 1995). In particular, incarceration has far-reaching effects on civic participation – particularly voting ¬– as Adults-In-Custody (AICs) are mostly barred from voting while incarcerated and/or on parole. In truth, only AICs in Vermont and Maine (super majority white race states) can vote while in prison. In 16 states and the District of Columbia, AICs lose their voting rights during incarceration only, and receive automatic restoration upon release. In 21 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation and former AICs may also have to pay outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored. And in 11 U.S. states AICs lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence or require additional action before voting rights can be restored. The experience of incarceration reverberates through societies and communities – disproportionately impacting communities of color – and while there are data that express generational cycles of incarceration, statistics about recidivism and incarceration rates do not sufficiently explain the short and long-term detrimental effects of political/civic disenfranchisement that is systematically enforced by all but two U.S. states.