The issues associated with equality have been central to many societies for centuries. Many Americans, as well as other nations, see the USA as one of the most democratic countries where people enjoy equal rights and share democratic values. However, this is far from being true as a great number of people have no voting rights. Ex-felon disenfranchisement is a widespread practice in the US. At that, people may be deprived of their right to vote for the rest of their lives in many states (Beckett, 2008). Those who served their terms have to address the authorities to obtain a document justifying their right to vote. In many cases, ex-felons’ applications may be rejected.
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Ex-felon disenfranchisement contributes to the discriminatory practices as minority groups are often vulnerable, and the rate of incarcerated people among these populations is significantly larger than the rate of white felons (Moore, 2014). Depriving ex-felons of their right to vote often means that voices of minorities (especially African Americans) remain unheard. It is also stressed that disenfranchisement also contributes to the development of various impairments in those people socialization (Díez-Ripollés, 2013). Ex-felons become alienated and disinterested in the community development, which may affect their choice to reoffend.
It is important to change the policy on the federal level, which will lead to the empowerment of people who need it to reintegrate into the society successfully. Ex-felons (of course, those who did not commit violent crimes or felonies associated with fraud) should regain their right to vote once they served their term (be it an imprisonment or parole, and so on). This (one of the basic rights) activity will help ex-felons to feel empowered and able to change something they find unjust. This can be a good motive to remain a law-abiding citizen. Entire communities may benefit from the change as people will be united by a particular goal (to voice their needs).
The Needed Change
Wronka (2008) emphasizes that helping and health professionals may and should contribute to the development of a truly democratic society where all people enjoy equal rights. A helping professional should be the one to initiate the change within the domain of ex-felon disenfranchisement. The issue is manifold and, hence, it requires a complex approach.
Dhami and Cruise (2013) note that the perspectives of ex-felons and public on the matter differ. Therefore, it is vital to appeal to both groups. As for ex-felons, they often seek or are obliged to seek for help, and this is when a helping professional can encourage individuals to reveal their ideas on the matter and, maybe, join the fight for their rights. As far as the public is concerned, it is possible to initiate group meetings in several (low-income and well-off) communities to raise people’s awareness of the problem and encourage them to share their views and, maybe, participate in the effort to change the trend.
Since people do not change policies but initiate the change, it is essential to address policy makers. The helping professional should address a representative of the US Congress or state authority. It can be beneficial to address several representatives who address the needs of low-income communities. It is possible to find a representative using a zip code (Find your representative, n.d.). These steps can help change the situation or, at least, initiate a wider and more efficient debate on the issue.
To initiate the change, it is crucial to set a number of manageable goals. These goals can be as follows:
- The involvement of, at least, three ex-felons into the process of the change through implementation of discussions of the problem and eliciting opinions of ex-felons.
- The second goal can be initiating community discussions of the problem and eliciting ideas of the members of the community (both ex-felons and law-abiding citizens).
- The involvement of, at least, two representatives in the process of change through meeting with Congress representatives (or state authorities representatives) of low-income communities.
The analysis of the project can help estimate the cost-effectiveness of the intervention and remain focused on the essential aspects. The SWOT analysis is instrumental in evaluating the effectiveness of the overall project and possibility to achieve the goals set (see fig. 1).
As for the strengths of the plan, it is possible to stress that it covers three major dimensions that will help initiate the debate and implement the change. Researchers often focus on specific stakeholders, and usually, these are ex-felons or the overall community (Miller & Spillane, 2012). Some researchers look into particular legal cases and reveal the trends existing in the society.
For instance, Grady (2012) explores various legal cases and compares ex-felon disenfranchisement to the civil death as the most vulnerable groups become deprived of their ability to affect the development of the society. However, it is crucial to approach all major stakeholders to initiate the change. Thus, it is important to encourage ex-felons to be more active, communities to be more active and tolerant, policy makers to get involved and help people.
The plan in question has clear and manageable goals, which is beneficial for the success. Importantly, the stakeholders should be aware of the goals of the project and the final aim of the change. This will ensure stakeholders’ commitment. The project is also evidence-based. It is grounded on the study of secondary sources. Moreover, opinions of stakeholders will be central to the implementation of the change. When addressing the policy makers, the helping professional (as well as a team) will have particular evidence concerning the detrimental effects of the system on particular communities and the entire country. The helping professional will also share views on potential benefits for the community and the society.
It is also possible to identify some weaknesses. First, the project is time-consuming, which may negatively affect the change implementation. The intervention involves numerous meetings with ex-felons, members of the community (or several communities), and several policy makers. The extensive debate may start some months after the first meetings and discussions. Some people may lose their interest in the project during this time. Moreover, various factors may affect people’s commitment including family issues, legal issues, moving to another community or state.
Secondly, the helping professional has limited resources (especially time), which affects the number of people involved. Of course, the leader and members of discussion groups may use social networks to approach more people. However, the limited number of stakeholders will still be especially apparent in the group of ex-felons. These people need support and guidance. The helping professional will have to run individual sessions and group discussions, which limits the number of people involved. Many of these people are overwhelmed with such issues as looking for job or focusing on other aspects of reintegration.
The project is associated with many opportunities. One of these is the stakeholders’ motivation. The change implementation process is likely to be successful as the stakeholders will be committed. Ex-felons are likely to be motivated to regain their right to vote. Many of these people apply for the necessary certificates and become discouraged due to bureaucracy and unwillingness of officials (as well as the entire system) to cooperate (Beckett, 2008). However, discussions and encouragement can have a positive impact on these populations’ perspectives. Their stories will also inspire others to stand up to the system.
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The public opinion is mainly negative as people support disenfranchisement (Dhami & Cruise, 2013). However, the situation is usually different when low-income communities re involved. The number of ex-felons is significantly higher in these communities and, hence, people living there understand the needs and aspirations of those who served a term. These communities can be the necessary platform for the development of a wide and lasting debate on the matter. Individual voices often remain unheard, but the change advocated by a group of people is likely to happen. These people will want a better future for their children, and the disenfranchisement is one to the factors that prevents them from taking an active role in the development of a better society for their kids.
Finally, policy makers are likely to be motivated as this will enable them to make a difference. The representative can initiate the process that will change the status quo, and will make the US society more democratic. The policy maker can also achieve various political goals. For example, the representative will be able to win many votes during future elections. This can be a good start for any political career as the involvement in such large-scale changes will make the policy maker an important, well-known and influential political figure.
Apart from developing stakeholders’ motivations, another opportunity is the chance to address NGOs. Various non-governmental organizations focus on the development of solutions to many issues. Addressing these entities will contribute to the start of the extensive debate in the society.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to take into account certain threats. As has been mentioned above, scarce resources may undermine the implementation of the project. The helping professional, as well as all the stakeholders, has limited time to participate in the discussions and meetings. It could be beneficial to have some funds to implement the change more effectively. These funds can be used as a salary for the most active participants (ex-felons) in the project. The production of some materials (leaflets, invitations, and so on) also requires allocation of some funds.
Another threat that can be regarded as a major barrier to the successful change is the public opinion. There is a long history of opposition to the provision of the right to vote to ex-felons. It is possible to note that this opinion has deep historical roots and cannot be changed easily and shortly (Grady, 2012). Many people may oppose any change or even discussion.
Finally, socioeconomic issues can discourage people to participate. For instance, ex-felons may focus on their job search instead of participating in discussions and meetings. People living in low-income communities also have little time and energy to take part in any projects as they often have to work long hours or balance several jobs and household duties.
To achieve the goals set, it is possible to establish some objectives.
Set a Group Account in a Social Network
To facilitate the discussion and enlarge the number of stakeholders involved, it is possible to start a group account on Facebook. The group may contribute to the development of a large online community of those who strive for change. This can eliminate the negative effects of such threat as the scarcity of resources (time) as people can choose the time they share their perspectives. The account will also help spread important news concerning the time and locations of meetings. The effective discussion on the level of a community or several communities can reach more people nationwide.
The achievement of this objective will also help enhance the effect of such opportunity as the motivation of stakeholders. People tend to spend a lot of time online. Thus, the Facebook account and the ability to share ideas will become helpful in making people more engaged. This objective will be instrumental in achieving the goals associated with inclusion of the stakeholders in the debate.
Address a Local NGO
To achieve the goal of reaching more ex-felons, it is possible to address a local NGO that focuses on helping this population. The helping professional will be able to reach more ex-felons as NGO can advise these people to get involved. The weakness involving the limited number of stakeholders will be mitigated. Addressing NGOs will also help enhance people’s motivation to participate in the project and fight for their right to vote and be a part of the civil society. The threat associated with a negative public opinion can be mitigated as well since ex-felons will feel the support and will find themselves in a circle of like-minded people.
Arrange an Event
To promote meetings within communities, it can be effective to arrange a social occasion that would involve ex-felons who are eager to be a part of the team of change and members of the local communities. This social occasion can be a race, a cooking competition, talent competition for children living in a community or several communities, and so on. This objective may mitigate the negative effects of such threat as negative public opinion as people may meet ex-felons and understand their needs and capabilities. At the same time, it may enhance the effects of such opportunities as the motivation of the stakeholders as people may be encouraged or even inspired to get involved during the occasion.
The theoretical basis of this project is the grassroots or bottom-up approach. This framework implies the focus on people “at the bottom of the formal power structure” who join to change some trend or policy (Kirst-Ashman, 2016, p. 250). The helping professional tries to make people feel empowered to unite and stand for the right of their fellow citizens to vote without the need to endure the bureaucratic torture.
Another theory employed to develop an action plan is the diffusion of innovation theory. This theory is based on the assumption that a change can be implemented if a sufficient number of people have the necessary information and adopt the idea concerning the change (Ervin, 2016). Finally, the Social Change Leadership Theory is also utilized. According to this approach, the change occurs when agents of change are promoted (Watt, 2009).
The first stage involves addressing the most affected group, which is the population of ex-felons. The helping professional will address local NGOs that will encourage ex-felons who address them to meet the helping professional. The use of the Theory of Social Change Leadership will help achieve the goal of involving ex-felons and members of the community. The helping professional will meet with ex-felons and elicit their views on the matter. They will be encouraged to participate in the project and become activists who claim their right to vote without any applications and certification. Empowered individuals will encourage their peers (fellow ex-felons, relatives, friends, colleagues and so on) to participate in the debate.
Another important change agent can be a member of the US Congress or a state authority. Therefore, after several meetings with ex-felons and extensive research on the matter, the helping professional will address several representatives of several communities (the vast majority of the communities involved will be low-income as these groups of people are more likely to get involved). This change agent can start the debate on the level of legislative processes and bring it to a wider audience.
NGOs can also be addressed to participate in the project. Local NGOs can provide information on the problem. They can help collecting funds to arrange meetings, social events and so on. They can also help addressing officials.
To create a wider platform for the debate, it is possible to employ the diffusion of innovation approach. The helping professional will set a group account on Facebook. This group will include people who took part in the sessions with the helping professional, or meetings and focus groups discussions. Later, the circle of users will increase. The change agents’ and discussions participants’ relatives, friends, colleagues and so on are likely to join the group or, at least, will know about it.
When the number of people attending meetings is over two dozen, it is possible to start actions aimed at shaping the public opinion and involving more people. The diffusion of innovation theory is the basis of this stage. It is necessary to bring more people together to encourage them to share their ideas. The first event can be a fair and an open air debate and dancing in the evening. During this day people will mingle and share ideas. Clearly, it is essential to provide leaflets and posters to make people aware of the problem and the subject matter of the event. People from local communities will be invited through social networks (including the Facebook account). Some invitations may be handed in near supermarkets.
Several most active members of the group will take part in the debate but the rest of the visitors will be encouraged to participate. The helping professional should discuss some arguments in favor and against ex-felon disenfranchisement, but the focus will be made on the talents of people revealed during the fair. Ex-felons may sell something they can make (cook, provide DIY or consultancy services and so on). It is beneficial to make sure that the representative will also take part in the occasion, but the first event can be held prior to acquiring the representative’s support or even expressed willingness to consider the issue. Following events should be held for all the stakeholders involved.
This project can be regarded as an effective one due to a number of reasons. As has been mentioned above, it addresses three major dimensions. The project involves addressing ex-felons, members of the community and policy makers. This comprehensive approach enables the helping professional to obtain insights from the stakeholders, implement a thorough research, empower and encourage ex-felons, communities and policy makers to initiate the change.
The project will be evidence-based, which enhances its reliability. Thus, particular opinions and expectations of people and members of low-income communities will be analyzed to work out a specific policy. The policy maker will have the data obtained and will be encouraged to communicate with other stakeholders. It is also necessary to add that the project has a substantial theoretical ground, which makes it valid and substantial.
It is necessary to add that the project has certain limitations. For instance, it can take a significant amount of time before the critical mass of people can get involved and the policy making process will start. External factors affecting commitment of the stakeholders can also become a considerable barrier. Nonetheless, the project is likely to achieve its goals. It will initiate a wide discussion of the problem. It may also result in the change of the legislation on the state or federal level, or at least will lead to the minimization of bureaucratic ordeals of ex-felons.
Ethics and Diversity
To address diversity issues, the helping professional will work with people of various genders and backgrounds (ethnical, socioeconomic, educational, and so on). Bowers and Preuhs (2009) stress that the disenfranchisement reduces the probability of voting for African Americans and has limited effect on White Americans’ voting. Therefore, it is necessary to concentrate on minorities who live in low-income communities. However, White ex-felons should also be involved in the debate. This may encourage other groups to get involved.
The literature reviewed focuses on ex-felons ideas, but there is no differentiation between males and females. It is not clear whether female ex-felons have similar views to males who served a term. Therefore, it can be beneficial to address females as well. At that, it is necessary to take into account the fact that these populations have to balance work (or even several works) and family as well as other duties (for example, provide care to disabled relatives), which reduces the time they can invest in the project.
When it comes to addressing officials, diversity may be especially important. It is necessary to address males and females of different backgrounds to make sure they will feel engaged and will understand the problems people face. This will ensure comprehensiveness of the project and future policies that can become a result of the initiated debate.
Clearly, it is essential to make sure that ethical issues will be addressed as well. Thus, it is crucial to promote tolerance and ethical conduct during meetings and social occasions. The debate can involve the discussion of controversial issues, and the helping professional will have to manage the discussions.
This project may have various results, both short-term and long-term. The short-term results will include the development of an online community where ex-felons will be able to discuss certain issues. This will help them feel connected, which is crucial for people who may be under pressure (no job opportunities, lack of money, family problems). Apart from the ability to discuss the civil rights online, ex-felons will obtain professional counselling. During the meetings and discussions, the focus will be made on the issues associated with disenfranchisement but other aspects can also be discussed. The project will also bring members of communities together, which will contribute to reintegration of ex-felons. Discussions and social events can help community members consider problems that ex-felons face every day.
In the long run, it is expected that ex-felon disenfranchisement laws will be banned and ex-felons will be able to regain their right to vote without any applications and waiting. At the very least, the project will facilitate the discussion on the matter, and people will become ready for the change. The public opinion can also change and people will acknowledge adverse effects of disenfranchisement for the development of the community.
As has been mentioned above, the project is evidence-based. Apart from the use of personal accounts of ex-felons and members of communities, preliminary secondary sources’ analysis has been implemented. Peer-reviewed articles were used to obtain the information on the public opinion on the matter as well as other issues associated with ex-felon disenfranchisement. Grady (2012) provides a detailed analysis of the origins of disenfranchisement. The roots go back to colonization of North America as European settlers used the legislation developed in their countries.
Other sources focus on the outcomes of the practice in the contemporary American society. At that, some researchers focus on the legislative aspect of the problem (Beckett, 2008; Díez-Ripollés, 2013; Miller & Spillane, 2012). The researchers unveil peculiarities of the laws and policies associated with ex-felon disenfranchisement. The sources help identify particular problems former prisoners may face. The articles also help understand reluctance of ex-felons to fight for their civil right to vote. This information is helpful for the development of proper strategies to use during meetings and discussions.
Some sources focus on the disparity and alienation issues (Bowers & Preuhs, 2009; Moore, 2014; Dhami & Cruise, 2013). The researchers stress that the practice leads to the intensification of the disparity in the US society as minorities become deprived of the political power to affect the development of their communities. This leads to their further disempowerment and exclusion from the civil society. Moore (2014) stresses that ex-felon disenfranchisement contributes significantly to the intensification of discriminatory practices and white domination.
Apart from these sources, some sources provide insights into the appropriate theoretical framework. Kirst-Ashman (2016) provides insight into the use of various theories. Grassroots or bottom-up approach is described in detail. It is appropriate for this project as individuals and the community is empowered to initiate the change. In the case with ex-felon disenfranchisement and its long history, it is clear that officials and policy makers are unlikely to change the situation and the public opinion.
Ervin (2016) provides insights into the use of diffusion of innovation theory. The project aims at changing the public opinion through making people aware of all the facets of the issue. Watt (2009) describes benefits of the use of the social change leadership theory. The project involves empowerment of ex-felons, which is one if the primary peculiarities of the theory. Finally, Wronka (2008) provides valuable insights into the social action and human rights. It is possible to note that this source is an inspiration for the project as the authors stresses that a helping professional can start the change that will transform the society. This firm belief is the core of the project.
The work on the project in question helped me understand better the relationship among advocacy, leadership and social change. It is possible to note that these are interconnected and manifested in the work of helping professionals. Advocacy is pursuing certain people’s wellbeing. Social change can be regarded as a goal and an outcome of advocacy. The wellbeing of some groups often involves significant or even fundamental changes in the society.
For instance, the advocacy of the Civil Rights of African Americans had a great impact on the development of the US society. Clearly, minor changes also occur. Leadership is an important premise for the advocacy and successful change. Such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other influential figures contributed to numerous social changes. At the same time, helping professionals can also be the leaders who initiate the shift in the society. These people work with individuals and empower them. They also initiate the discussion aimed at changing public opinion on an issue. Clearly, helping professionals collaborate with various people and organizations to make the change happen.
The understanding of the three concepts has affected my personal view on ex-felon disenfranchisement. I knew the problem was persistent and had numerous adverse effects on the US society. I also believed that the change was needed as I understood that the right to vote is one of the ways to express one’s view on the future of the nation and affect the development of the society. Those who served a prison term have their perspectives and may contribute to the development of the nation as they have certain experiences and may have valuable input. The minorities are the most vulnerable as they are often forced into crime due to various reasons. I also believe that I, being a helping professional, can change or, at least, initiate the change and help ex-felons regain one if their civil rights. I can do it through different channels. First, helping ex-felons to reintegrate may and should involve discussions of ex-felon disenfranchisement.
The helping professional should encourage ex-felons to apply and go through the entire procedure. It is also vital to encourage these individuals to unite into a group of likeminded people who have the courage and commitment to initiate a social change. I can address various organizations and officials to bring all the stakeholders together and create the sense of urgency. People have accustomed to this practice, and many do not see anything wrong about it or think they are not the ones to change the things. A wide discussion may change the status quo. Finally, I feel I can contribute to the development of the society as I know that helping profession is not confined to working with individuals. I can address communities bringing different people together and making them change the practice that is a disgrace to a democratic society.
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Dhami, M.K., & Cruise, P.A. (2013). Prisoner disenfranchisement: Prisoner and public views of an invisible punishment. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13(1), 211-227. Web.
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