How Massive Voter Disenfranchisement Decides American Elections

The disenfranchisement of convicted felons has altered the outcome of governors races, key senate races, and even presidential elections, says political science professor Marie Gottschalk.

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The massive disenfranchisement of convicted felons — totaling 6 million uncounted potential votes in the 2012 presidential election — has decided governors races, key senate races, and even presidential elections, says political science professor Marie Gottschalk. Sadly, this is only one way the American electorate has been undemocratically shrunk. Voter identification laws, poll taxes, literacy tests, and disenfranchisement laws that historically targeted poor individuals are a lasting stain on our democratic principles. "This is a vestige from the Civil War years," says Gottschalk, "when whites were more likely to have committed homicide and African-Americans were going to be picked up for many of these more petty crimes and therefore be disenfranchised." Some states, like Rhode Island, are working to re-enfranchise a number of people, but there is much more to be done.

'No Solitary Confinement for Juveniles or the Mentally Ill — At All.'

In prohibiting juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons, President Barack Obama follows the advice of prison experts like Marie Gottschalk. Here she explains the "degrading and dehumanizing" harm caused by extreme isolation.

Politics & Current Affairs

Perhaps at no other time in the present generation has prison reform been so close to the surface of our political consciousness. The "tough on crime" policies and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines of the 1990s have created a pattern of overly harsh punishments and a glut of private prisons, all but abandoning the rehabilitative function of the penal system. Today, that is slowly changing. In prohibiting juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons, President Barack Obama follows the advice of prison experts like Marie Gottschalk. Here she explains the "degrading and dehumanizing" harm caused by extreme isolation.

How Did the U.S. Become a Prison State? And How Do We Get Out?

You already know the statistics: The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. But do you know why?

Videos

You already know the statistics: The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country, both in sheer numbers and as a percentage of the population. But do you know why?

University of Pennsylvania professor Marie Gottschalk is an expert on the politics of incarceration and author of the book Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics. In this video interview, professor Gottschalk details the sequence of events that led to the American prison state. From overstated crime statistics to race-based political dealings to the political benefit of looking tough, the saga of the U.S. as warden continues to reap heavy consequences for nearly all parts of society.

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