Democracy behind bars

DEMOCRACY BEHIND BARS

Author Sasha Abramsky talks about how mass incarceration — and the resulting disfranchisement of millions of Americans — is destroying our democracy.

In his new book, “Conned: How Millions of Americans Went to Prison, Lost the Vote, and Helped Send George W. Bush to the White House,” award-winning journalist Sasha Abramsky takes us on a journey across the nation, documenting through personal interviews of people in prison, former prisoners, state legislators and advocates how felon disfranchisement laws fundamentally undermine America’s democratic ideals.

Today, nearly 5 million Americans are disfranchised from the right to vote either because they are in prison, on parole or probation, or because they live in a state that extends disfranchisement beyond the end of one’s sentence. Racial, ethnic and economic disparities in the criminal justice system, and the “war on drugs” have resulted in the most severe impact hitting communities of color. Where African-Americans comprise only 12.2 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug users, they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses, causing critics to call the war on drugs the “New Jim Crow.” Nationally, an estimated 13 percent of African-American men are unable to vote because of a felony conviction. That’s seven times the national average.

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