The “Felon Factory” and the Voting Block
By Shakyra Diaz
I often refer to Ohio as a “felon factory.” I came up with the term a few years ago to convey how mass incarceration and criminalization has replaced manufacturing as an industry in the Buckeye State.
Ohio, once a major industrial powerhouse, is now among the top 10 prison states in the country. Like a high functioning production line, people enter Ohio’s criminal justice system and come out with a criminal conviction.
Those who come out of the “felon factory” will encounter a lifetime of barriers. Some of those barriers prevent people from obtaining housing. Those with drug felonies are ineligible for federal financial aid to finance their education. Employment for people with felony convictions is illusive.
Read and share the ACLU of Ohio’s Voting Rights for People with Criminal Convictions card.
Life is a struggle and often limiting for people with felony convictions, no matter how old the conviction is. However, there is one area where Ohioans with felonies fare better then their peers in other states—voting.
Several states restrict voting rights for people with felony and misdemeanor convictions. This issue prompted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to call on states to repeal laws that prevent people with felonies from voting.
In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, Holder said, “These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive.” He went on, “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”
Despite its large prison population, Ohio is unique in that those incarcerated for felony offenses have their voting rights restored upon release from incarceration and people with misdemeanors can actually vote absentee while in jail.
Unfortunately, many are not aware of the voting rights for people with criminal convictions. With thousands of Ohioans released from prison or jail, placed on probation, parole, or in a halfway house yearly, it is critical to educate this large voting block of this right.
People who vote believe that their civic participation matters. Voting allows all, including those with criminal convictions, to care for and build the political power of the communities in which they live. Voting is also tied to lower recidivism rates.
We all win when everyone participates in their government.
This is a message that we must all take responsibility for spreading. That’s why the ACLU of Ohio publishes a card to educate people with criminal convictions on their voting rights. Download one today, or contact our office and we will send you some for free to distribute in your community.