NY Congressman Hakeem Jeffries recently sat down with Roland Martin, host of NewsOne Now, to discuss his proposed bill to give released prisoners who have served their time the right to vote.
The premise of Rep. Jeffries’ bill is that “as the nation moves towards criminal justice reform, reducing mandatory minimums and improving opportunities for people to reenter society, we have to look at the holistic individual in terms of their participation and their reentry.”
Jeffries continued, “Part of that is regaining their franchise as it relates to someone’s ability to vote, to participate, to have their voices heard.”
When asked how felony disenfranchisement started, Rep. Jeffries said the effort to disenfranchise felons “is largely concentrated in many of the deep South states.”
“I would argue that it’s a legacy from slavery and Jim Crow and a consistent effort to disenfranchise individuals. You see it in other context in terms of trying to prevent people on the front-end from being able to vote, along with these harsh voter ID laws and efforts that are underway in many of the Southern states and other parts of the country,” said Jeffries.
He continued, “Clearly it’s a systematic effort to deny individuals, most of whom happen to be low-income individuals of color, from the ability to participate in American democracy.
Rep. Jeffries also highlighted another important issue involving prison inmates, where states are counting incarcerated individuals as residents of the congressional district in which they are in-prisoned.
According to Jeffries, most prisons in New York State are located in “rural, largely White communities.”
Jeffries explained these municipalities are using prisoners because of their locations “for the purpose of increasing” representation to either their respective state legislatures or Congressional districts.
“Incarcerated individuals are also being counted for the purpose of increasing shares of block grants, which are allocated economically based on population,” Jeffries said.
Rep. Jeffries told Martin this practice denies inmates’ home communities representation.
Once the inmates get out as a result of felony disenfranchisement, they will still be unable to participate in American democracy. “So the system is rigged on both ends,” said Jeffries.
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