Criminal Justice Reform and Felon Voting

CLP Current Event: January 15, 2019

The work of Martin Luther King, Jr., is continued today in criminal justice reform. Learn more about the First Step Act in this week’s CLP Current Event!

Brought to teachers by Susie Marcus, CLP consultant, with CLP staff.

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” 
― Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

News Sources

AG pick to reassure senators he backs sentencing overhaul, by Michael Balsamo, AP News, January 11, 2019
“If confirmed, Barr could return to the top Justice Department post by February. Though the First Step Act is now law, its advocates fear Barr could undermine it. The law gives sweeping discretion to the attorney general and his subordinates, including the director of the Bureau of Prisons.”

What will it take to truly reform the criminal justice system?, by Rose Aguilar & Laura Wenus, KAWL Public Radio, January 10, 2019
“The First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, was signed into law at the end of the year. It eases some minimum sentencing requirements including the “three strikes” rule. What is this changing for incarcerated people, and what else is needed to fix our criminal justice system, which costs $182 billion a year?”
CLP: Great opportunity to listen and read

5 things to know for December 19: Criminal justice, Facebook, Flynn, Israel, Ebola, by AJ Willingham, CNN, December 19, 2018
“The “First Step” bill has been kicked around for a while and has an unlikely combination of supporters, including CNN’s Van Jones, Kim Kardashian-West and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was instrumental in getting it to a vote.”

Senate easily passes Trump-backed criminal justice reform bill, by Stef W. Kight, Axios, December 18, 2018
“For years, advocates and lawmakers have worked to reform the federal prison system only to have their efforts fall apart at the last minute. But with the help of Jared Kushner in the White House and a bipartisan Senate coalition, the First Step Act has made it past the Senate and will now likely become law — impacting thousands of current federal inmates.”

Criminal Justice Bill Will Go Up for a Vote, McConnell Says, by Nicholas Fandos, The New York Times, December 11, 2018
Still, the looming vote will underscore the significant shift in public opinion and policymakers’ views over the last two decades, away from the policies of an era when the federal government declared war on drugs and crime toward what lawmakers like to call a “smart on crime” approach.

Questions to Consider

  • What are the key elements in the Criminal Justice Reform Bill?
  • Does the 87-12 vote reflect a bipartisan approach? Who were the major sponsors of this Bill? What role did Jared Kushner play?
  • What is the history of criminal justice in the United States?
  • Why is the Criminal Justice Reform Bill called “First Step”?
  • What steps might follow this bill?
  • Do sentencing decisions provide a mirror for how we think about redemption for wrong doers?
  • How might this federal bill influence state criminal justice reform? Did criminal justice decisions in the States influence federal law?
  • Does “implicit bias” toward minorities play a role in how we structure the criminal justice system?
  • What is a felon?
  • Should there be a way for people who have served their prison terms to reintegrate into society?
  • Are second chances a good idea?
  • Who might favor felon voting? Who might oppose felon voting?

Background and More

Editorial: With First Step Act, Jared Kushner taps into our common humanity, by Sun-Times Editorial Board, Chicago Sun Times, December 24, 2018
CLP: Opinion

First Step Act: Who’s eligible for release under the new criminal justice law?, by Andrea Drusch, Tribune News Service, December 22, 2018

The Senate Passed the Criminal Justice Bill. For Jared Kushner, It’s a Personal Issue and a Rare Victory., by Annie Karni, The New York Times, December 14, 2018

Advocates Seek a Rare Right For Felons: Jury Duty, by RJ Vogt, Law 360, December 9, 2018
“Such is the standing of felons in most American courts: 28 states and the federal system permanently bar them from serving as jurors in criminal or civil matters. Another 21 states restrict felons from jury duty until the completion of their sentences, including probation and parole. Only one state, Maine, allows felons unequivocal access to juries.”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Protest Against a Racist Court System, by Martin Luther King, Jr., The Atlantic: King Issue
“There is another injustice in the courts which is equally as bad. Cases in which only Negroes are involved are handled frivolously, without regard to justice or proper correction. We deplore this type of injustice as much as we do the injustice which the Negro confronts in his court relations with whites. We appeal this afternoon to our white brothers, whether they are private citizens or public officials, to courageously meet this problem. This is not a political issue: it is ultimately a moral issue. It is a question of the dignity of man.”

Voting rights for convicted felons, Ballotpedia
CLP: Easy to read charts showing how each state handles voting rights of people convicted of felony.

Lesson Plans

Justice for All? Teaching About Crime and Punishment in America, by Tom Marshall and Michael Gonchar, The Learning Network
CLP: Middle & high school

Implicit Bias and the Criminal Justice System, by Megan Crenshaw, University of Washington Law School
CLP: High school; Street Law lesson plan

Issues Facing the Criminal Justice System, by Kelly Nieto, University of Washington School of Law
CLP: High school; Street Law lesson plan

Constitutional and Legal Connections

Voters Championed Criminal Justice Reforms, by Tim Lau, Brennan Center for Justice, November 7, 2018

Felony Disenfranchisement: A Primer, by Jean Chung, The Sentencing Project, July 17, 2018
CLP: Variety of charts that break down number of people affected by disenfranchisement in each state.

Your Basic Constitutional Rights in the Criminal Justice System, Georgia Legal Aid

Oregon Connections

Voting Rights for Ex-Offenders by State, Nonprofit Vote

Oregon State Social Science Standards

8.8 Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
8.14 Explain rights and responsibilities of citizens.
8.21 Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
HS.27 Examine functions and process of United States government.
HS.30 Analyze the roles and activities of political parties, interest groups and mass media and how they affect the beliefs and behaviors of local, state, and national constituencies.
HS.33 Explain the role of government in various current events.
HS.35 Examine the pluralistic realities of society (e.g., race, poverty, gender and age), recognizing issues of equity, and evaluating need for change.
HS.59 Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.60. Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon from varied or opposing perspectives or points of view.

We the People Lesson Connections

Middle School, Level 2

  • Unit 5, Lesson 25: How has the right to vote expanded since the Constitution was adopted?
  • Unit 5, Lesson 26: How does the Constitution safeguard the right to equal protection of the law?
  • Unit 5, Lesson 27: How does the Constitution protect the right to due process of law?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 29: What are the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 30: How might citizens participate in civic affairs?

High School, Level 3

  • Unit 5, Lesson 32: How do the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments protect rights within the judicial system?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 33: What does it mean to be a citizen?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 34: What is the importance of civic engagement to American constitutional democracy?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 35: How have civil rights movements resulted in fundamental political and social change in the United States?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 37: What key challenges does the United States face in the future?