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Title: Alienated Citizens, Inalienable Rights: The Impact of Felon Disenfranchisement on Recidivism
Authors: Scott, Ashley
Advisors: Ofer, Udi
Nelson, Timothy J
Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Class Year: 2021
Abstract: Felon disenfranchisement is the policy of revoking a citizen’s right to vote upon conviction of a felony. Nearly 5.2 million Americans were banned from the voting booth in 2020 for this reason. This thesis asks, is felon disenfranchisement empirically related to recidivism? After historical, theoretical, and international contextualization, this thesis presents an analysis of never-before-used data and the results of an original study to answer this question. Chapters One through Three explore the history, theoretical justification, and international context of felon disenfranchisement. The history of felon disenfranchisement reveals that these policies were designed and developed over millennia to be degrading, humiliating, and (as employed by the United States) racist. No political or penological theories espoused by the United States justifies felon disenfranchisement in its current form. In comparison to other liberal democracies, the United States has refused to confront the history of felon disenfranchisement or to evaluate it robustly according to foundational public values. Chapters Four and Five are the heart of this thesis and present unique and original analyses of quantitative and qualitative data that explores the relationship between felon disenfranchisement and recidivism. The quantitative analysis relies on a national longitudinal dataset that has never been used to explore the relationship between voting and recidivism. Using bivariate analysis and multivariate logistic regression, this analysis finds that there is likely a statistically significant negative relationship between voting and recidivism. The original study includes 6 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with formerly incarcerated citizens. These interviews were designed to evaluate three topics: 1) attitudes toward the government before, during, and after incarceration; 2) perceptions about citizenship and the right to vote; and 3) political behaviors before and after incarceration. This study finds that felon disenfranchisement promotes antisocial perceptions and attitudes by encouraging feelings of exclusion from the citizenry. Taken together, these two studies suggest that felon disenfranchisement likely increases recidivism by encouraging antisocial perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors, which are the result of feelings of exclusion and degradation. These studies were limited and suggest that further research is necessary to understand the true nature of this relationship. Despite those limitations, however, it is evident that felon disenfranchisement promotes antisocial behaviors, which are likely to increase recidivism. The final chapter of this thesis explores situations in which felon disenfranchisement may be justifiable and under what conditions the United States would be willing to accept the consequences of disenfranchisement. This analysis finds that felon disenfranchisement is warranted as a targeted punishment in criminal cases involving election crimes, public corruption, or treason. Based on this conclusion, this thesis recommends that the federal lawmakers establish voting as a fundamental right, even for prisoners; and that state lawmakers reclassify disenfranchisement as a criminal punishment for the offenses listed above with specific and targeted sentencing guidelines. Finally, this thesis considers the political obstacles that may obstruct the recommended policy changes. Felon disenfranchisement is an antiquated, racist, and unjustified policy that likely contributes to recidivism and the United States has an opportunity to build a system that reflects our values and is based on empirical evidence.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2023

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