Even after felons pay their dues to society and leave prison, America sidelines them from the public square. Parolees and probationers are often perceived as undeserving of citizen benefits, and they have little power to assert their rights. Not only do governments often deny felons public resources such as Food Stamps, subsidized college loans, public housing and professional opportunities like licenses and contracts, it is also common for U.S. states to deny former prisoners the right to vote and otherwise exercise full and free citizenship. Felon disenfranchisement is the rule rather than the exception. Some 35 U.S. states deny voting rights when felons leave prison, restoring the right to vote only after the completion of terms of parole and probation. Effective lifetime disqualification prevails in a few states like Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia — where the right to vote can be restored for felons only on a case-by-case basis involving individual appeals leading to gubernatorial pardons. But felon disenfranchisement is not going unchallenged. Reform pushes are widespread — and a 2006 victory in Rhode Island offers room for optimism that full citizenship rights may, over time, be restored to former prisoners.
The cause of restoring full citizenship to ex-prisoners gets support from traditional left-of-center interest groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union; from progressive criminal justice organizations such as The Sentencing Project; and from community-backed organizations associated with the cause of racial equality such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. On the conservative side, some evangelical Christian organizations like the Prison Fellowship assist felons in advocating for the right to vote.
In many places, vote restoration campaigns involve ex-offenders and members of their families in struggles to end felony disenfranchisement. Efforts of this type include All of Us or None in California; the Exodus Renewal Society in Illinois; Families Against Mandatory Minimums in Washington, D.C.; the Ordinary People Society in Alabama; and the National Association of Previous Prisoners in Georgia.