Pubdate: Tue, 03 Jul 2007
Source: Tucson Citizen (AZ)
Copyright: 2007 Tucson Citizen
Author: A.J. Flick


Study: Community Ties Can Reduce Recidivism

If one of the goals of the criminal justice system is to keep
ex-convicts from returning to prison, alienating them from society is
a bad way to go about it.

One of the keys to reducing recidivism is strengthening their ties to
the community, studies show.

Yet one of the most intimate connections people can have with their
community - the right to vote - is denied an estimated 18,000
ex-convicts released from prison and probation each year in Arizona.

Recently, Pima County Superior Court Judge John Davis faced a man he
once thought was a lost cause.

Davis couldn't grant the man the right to bear arms - that privilege
can never be restored because his offense involved a gun - but he did
restore other rights, such as voting.

"What turned you around?" Davis asked.

"I don't want to get into trouble," the man said. "I missed out on
seeing my two oldest kids grow up, and I don't want that to happen
again (with my younger children). I want to do the right thing."

"I'm real happy for you," Davis said, smiling. "Congratulations. So
many guys don't make it."

Davis has keenly observed for several years a national movement to end
disenfranchisement of ex-convicts.

"How can anyone object to somebody voting?" Davis said.

The man did not want to be identified for this article. He wasn't
alone. Several ex-convicts were approached to talk about why they
wanted their rights back, but refused, fearing a backlash from
friends, neighbors and co-workers who were unaware of their conviction.

Davis' interest in civil rights restoration has led to a project that
will begin this fall when students from the University of Arizona's
James E. Rogers School of Law will work with a local law firm to ease
ex-convicts through the civil rights restoration process.

A 2005 Columbia University Human Rights Law Review study found that
ex-felon voters in 1996 were about half as likely to be rearrested
from 1997 to 2000 as nonvoting ex-felons were.

"Voting appears to be part of a package of pro-social behavior that is
linked to desistance to crime," the study said.

As more ex-convicts participate in their communities as voters, the
study concluded, "many will bring their behavior into line with the
expectations of a citizen role, avoiding further contact with the
criminal justice system."

A lawsuit filed in early June in U.S. District Court in Phoenix on
behalf of four Pima County residents and one Maricopa County resident
seeks to have the right to vote, sit on a jury and hold office
automatically restored for all ex-felons.

"I've worked all the years that I've been out of prison," said Michele
Convie, a social worker who was convicted in the 1980s of drug charges
in California and Arizona.

"I own property, I have kids in the schools, and I drive on these
roads," said Convie, one of the four Pima County residents included in
the ACLU's suit against the state.

"I contribute to this community. I should have a vote," said Convie,
program coordinator of the Women's Re-entry Network.

Arizona law allows for first-time, single-offense felons to have their
citizenship rights restored automatically, save gun ownership, once
they have been released from jail or prison. The right to have a
firearm must be reinstated separately.

Those who have been convicted of multiple offenses must apply for
civil rights restoration after they've finished their sentence and
paid all fines. Again, the right to own a firearm is a separate process.

The ACLU's lawsuit says requiring all fines to be paid before
reinstatement amounts to a poll tax that violates the 14th Amendment,
which says all citizens must be treated equally.

Those convicted of the most dangerous offenses, including first-degree
murder, cannot have any of their rights reinstated.

In addition, Arizona law doesn't allow provisions for a resident to
restore rights when the felony was committed out of state, according
to The Sentencing Project, a national group that promotes alternatives
to incarceration.

For instance, a parent who was convicted of a felony in another state,
even if the same crime is considered a misdemeanor here, couldn't vote
in a Tucson Unified School District Board election unless the parent
completes the restoration process in the other state.

Various groups have tried introducing bills in the Arizona Legislature
easing the civil-rights restoration process for everything but
firearms, but each effort has failed. Debate over the latest attempt,
which was voted down June 20, grew heated between two local
legislators, Reps. Jonathan Paton, a Republican, and Tom Prezelski, a
Democrat, who continued their animated debate long after the vote.

Paton did not return phone calls for comment about his opposition to
the rights restoration bill.

The majority of inmates in Arizona's prisons are in for property, drug
or other offenses including felony drunk driving, according to the
Department of Corrections. Of 18,000 inmates who were released last
year, 59 percent served an average sentence of 36 months and 41
percent served less than six months, the DOC said.

On average in the United States, 95 percent of state inmates are
eventually released, according to the Bureau of Justice.

Nationwide, 5.3 million Americans, or 1 in 41 adults, have lost the
right to vote, according to The Sentencing Project.

A three-year recidivism study, "The Alternatives to Violence Project
in Delaware," published in September 2005, found that community bonds
are vital to cutting the risk of reoffending.

"Most, if not all, inmates have not experienced meaningful or healthy
connection with others, either in their pre-prison life and certainly
not while in prison," the report states.

"When they experience this sense of connection and community, they are

Communities not only benefit from reduced recidivism, but taxpayers
also get a big break, the Georgia Department of Corrections says.
Lowering recidivism by 1 percent saves $7 million to $8 million
annually in that state, the agency reported.

A few dozen ex-convicts trickle in to Pima County Superior Court each
year asking for their rights to be restored - about 35 last year.

Arizona law requires ex-offenders to apply for restoration from their
sentencing judge, if possible. Otherwise, the presiding judge assigns
another judge.

"I don't hear those requests without a hearing for a couple of
reasons," Judge Richard S. Fields said. "One is that if they want
their rights restored, I want them to come and look me in the eye and
say it.

"The second reason is, I want to make sure the state has an
opportunity to give notice to the victim properly."

Fields estimated he hears at least one, perhaps two, civil rights
restoration cases each month.

"The issues that you see sometimes in petitions are that they want to
become a nurse or do something else that they need to get a license,"
Fields said.

Most of the ex-convicts Fields has seen are more concerned about their
right to bear arms than to vote, he said.

Pima County Assistant Public Defender Marla Rappaport has built a
reputation for helping many ex-convicts through the restoration process.

"It's really nice to go to court to have something good happen to
somebody," Rappaport said.

"I think many people who are getting their rights restored didn't
understand what it would mean to them until they had them taken away."

The American Friends Service Committee, in partnership with the
southern Arizona chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, has held
several workshops to educate ex-convicts on how to begin rights

"It's one step that they can take to become fully fledged members of
society," said Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends
Service Committee's Tucson office.

"People want to participate and feel that they're part of the
community," Isaacs said.

"If I were allowed to register, it would be as an independent," Convie

Convie said she has met many ex-convicts who are in similar
situations: beating their addictions, improving their education and
landing fulfilling jobs.

"People have the idea that there are going to be masses of strung-out
people going out to vote," Convie said. "They won't. They've got other
things to do that are more urgent to them, like getting high."

Of 17,904 inmates released in fiscal year 2006 in

" 10,563 or 59 percent served an average of 36 months in

" 7,341 or 41 percent served less than six months.

" 3,044 or 17 percent served an average of four to six

" 4,297 or 24 percent served an average of three months or

The Arizona Department of Corrections' Web site for reports and

For information about civil rights restoration
nationwide, go to the Sentencing Project:

As of March 31, of the total prison population of
36,284 in Arizona:

In March, the month with the most current statistics

Upon conviction of a felony, the rights to vote, sit on a jury, hold
office and possess a firearm are suspended.

After the felony punishment is served, which includes incarceration,
probation/parole and/or any fines, if it's a first-time felony
offense, the rights - excluding the right to possess a firearm - are
automatically restored.

The right to possess a firearm is restored only after a successful
court petition.

Civil rights may be restored if a pardon is granted. In Arizona, the
governor may grant a pardon only after the Board of Executive Clemency
recommends it.

Restoring the right to vote, sit on a jury and hold office: Someone
who has been convicted of more than one felony may apply to the
sentencing judge two years after unconditional discharge from prison.
Repeat offenders must wait until any probation is completed. Probation
officers are required to give their clients notification of the
process. Those convicted of federal offenses must also wait two years
after being released from prison and apply to the presiding judge of
Superior Court.

These rights may also be restored if the ex-convict successfully
petitions the sentencing court to set aside or vacate the conviction.
This applies to ex-offenders except those convicted of serious violent
offenses, offenses causing serious physical injury, use of a deadly
weapon or dangerous instrument, crimes with victims less than 15 years
old or a sexual offense.

or 13 percent, have lost their rights, a rate seven times the national

are ineligible to vote as a result of a felony conviction.

(Hispanic and non-Hispanic) have lost their rights.

Florida allows automatic approval of the reinstatement of rights for
many persons who have been convicted of nonviolent offenses. Those
convicted of certain violent crimes are immediately eligible to apply
for review and approval without a hearing; others must still apply for
reinstatement through a hearing of the Office of Executive Clemency.

Maryland repeals its lifetime voting ban. An automatic restoration
policy is instituted for all ex-offenders upon release from prison.

Rhode Island voters approve a referendum restoring voting rights to
those on probation or parole.

Tennessee simplifies restoration process. Those convicted of
nonviolent felonies not related to the electoral process can have the
right to vote restored upon release and fulfillment of restitution or
child support obligations.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack orders automatic restoration of voting rights
for all ex-felons upon release.

Nebraska repeals lifetime ban on all felons and enacts law requiring
two-year wait after release.

New Mexico requires corrections department to notify the Secretary of
State when inmates are released to start the restoration process. Four
years earlier, lawmakers repealed the lifetime ban on voting.

Alabama allows most ex-offenders to apply for right to vote after

Nevada approves a provision to automatically restore voting rights for
first-time nonviolent inmates upon release.

Wyoming allows non-violent, first-time offenders to apply for voting
right five years after release.

Kansas allows probationers to vote.

In the Roman Empire and ancient Greece, "civil death" penalties ban
criminals from appearing in court, making speeches, attending
assemblies, serving in the army and voting. The laws spread to Europe
after the fall of the empire.

The Holy Roman Empire's practice of "outlawry" forces outlaws to
"dwell in the forest like a wild beast" unless he leaves the country.

England's common-law "attainder" tradition subjects ex-felons to
forfeiture; "corruption of the blood," which bans them from retaining,
inheriting or passing an estate to heirs; and loss of civil rights.
Such traditions were thought to serve as a deterrent to others.

English colonists import "civil death" to America. Eventually, bans on
entering into contracts and inheriting property were dismissed.

After the American Revolution, felony disenfranchisement traditions
become law.

Virginia becomes the first state to ban ex-felons from

By the start of the Civil War, most states had felony
disenfranchisement laws.

By 1869, 29 of 37 states had felony disenfranchisement

Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia ban inmates from
voting while imprisoned for a felony. Maine and Vermont permit inmates
to vote. Thirty-five states ban felons from voting on parole; 30 of
these states also ban felony probationers. Two states deny the right
to vote to all ex-offenders who have completed their sentences. Nine
ban certain categories of ex-offenders and/or permit application for
restoration of rights for specified offenses after a waiting period
(such as five years in Delaware and Wyoming; two years in Nebraska).
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath