In the United States, ex-felons face significant limitations of their civil rights, including the right to vote. To correct this situation, a serious advocating effort is needed. The main goal if this effort should be to persuade the state legislators to abolish disenfranchisement laws. Three objectives should be achieved to meet this goal: gaining popular support, refuting the arguments of the opposition, and proving the benefits of enfranchising ex-felons to the legislators.
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Statement of the Problem
In the contemporary United States, ex-felons face significant limitations of their rights. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow ex-felons to vote. Other states prohibit all or some ex-felons to vote. In most states, pre-trial inmates and people kept in jail for misdemeanor offenses are disenfranchised (Manza & Uggen, 2004, p. 9-12). Additionally, ex-felons have limited access to employment, housing, and other opportunities, which undermines civic participation (Bowers & Preuhs, 2009). To initiate positive change, an advocacy effort is necessary. This effort can be led by counselors, who can use their competency in advocating social change (Toporek, Lewis, & Crethar, 2009, p. 260). Such activity is consistent with the ethical code of counselors (American Counseling Association, 2005, p. 5). However, to start an advocacy effort, a primary goal should be formulated, as well as specific objectives for meeting this goal.
Objective: Make State Legislation Abolish Disenfranchisement Laws
Advocacy activities are commonly intended to involve society in an effort to influence political decisions. Thus, to correct the disenfranchisement of ex-felons, an effort should be made to refute the legislation, according to which ex-felons have to be disenfranchised. One possible direction of such an effort is to make federal government abolish disenfranchisement laws. Nevertheless, applying to the federal government is complicated and may be ineffective due to the contradictions between the authorities of the federal and state governments. A far more effective way is to apply to state legislatures since it is they, who initiated the enactment of these laws, and they possess a power to abolish the laws immediately. Thus, the primary goal for advocating the enfranchisement of ex-felons is to persuade state governments to abolish the disenfranchisement laws. Next, strategic objectives should be established to make the abolition of the disenfranchisement legislation.
Strategic Objectives to Meet the Objective
To achieve the goal, the advocates should meet the following strategic objectives: spread the information via media to receive popular support, refute the arguments of the opposition, and convince the state legislators that giving civil rights to ex-inmates is beneficial for the society.
The first step to achieving the goal is to raise popular awareness. Gaining popular support is highly essential since, for a majority, it is easier to change the mind of legislators than for a minority. In advocacy, the most efficient method to raise popular awareness is to launch a media campaign. Therefore, advocates need to raise a media campaign to attract the attention of the society to the problem of disenfranchisement of ex-felons. For this work, any activity in media is useful: writing and spreading posts in social webs, writing articles in the press, protests meetings, and other forms of activity. An especially good example is receiving the support of a production company that can raise the problem in its advertisement to the mutual benefit of itself and the advocates.
The next objective on the way to meeting the goal is to refute the arguments of those, who support the disenfranchisement of ex-felons. It is their arguments that have made the state legislators approve the disenfranchisement bills, so it is highly necessary to undermine these arguments in order to change the mind of the legislators. First, it is necessary to prove that the laws are a breach of the 14th Amendment, the Voting Rights Act, and the “no taxation without representation” principle. Next, it is needed to identify the main arguments of the supporters of disenfranchisement and disarm them. These arguments are the following: disenfranchisement allows to prevent crimes related to elections, prevents irresponsible individuals from voting, prevents making laws crime-loyal, and is a fair punishment for offenses (Bennett, 2004, p. 3-7). Given proper analysis and a consolidated effort, a rebuttal of these arguments can be worked out in each state with the consideration of local circumstances.
Finally, the advocates need to prove the benefits of the abolition of disenfranchisement laws; in other words, they have to explain to the legislators why giving rights to ex-felons is a good idea. The main argument should be that being given civil rights has a positive impact on an ex-felon’s behavior. As Desmond Meade, a former inmate, said, “The quicker you allow a person to re-integrate into society, the less likely they are to recommit crime” (Steinback, 2014, par. 14). It can also be stated that ex-felons have already undergone their punishment, and there is no need in an additional one and that receiving a right to vote increases the sense of responsibility, which leads to appropriate behavior. The specialist in psychology, especially the counselors, who work with ex-inmates, if they are present among the advocates can support these arguments with psychological evidence.
Ex-inmates face significant limitations of their rights. To correct that, the advocates should convince the state legislators to abolish disenfranchisement laws. To achieve this goal, they need to receive public support, disarm the supporters of disenfranchisement, and prove that giving rights to ex-inmates is beneficial.
American Counseling Association. (2005). ACA code of ethics. Web.
Bennett, S.M. (2004). Giving ex-felons the right to vote. Web.
Bowers, M.M., & Preuhs, R.R. (2009). Collateral consequences of a collateral penalty: The negative effect of felon disenfranchisement laws on the political participation of nonfelons. Social Science Quarterly, 90(3): 722-743.
Manza, J., & Uggen, K. (2004). Punishment and democracy: The disenfranchisement of non-incarcerated felons in the united states. Web.
Steinback, R. (2014). Advocates taking action to restore voting rights to rehabilitated ex-felons. Sun Sentinel. Web.
Toporek, R.L., Lewis, J.A., & Crethar, H.C. (2009). Promoting systemic change through the ACA advocacy competencies. Journal of Counseling and Development, 87(3), 260-268.