Locked Out

Want to participate in your democracy? In many states, ex-felons need not apply.


Nearly 800,000 Americans are on parole. Add in those on probation, and the total is more than 5 million.

48 states prohibit prisoners from voting. 30 states also exclude felons on probation. In Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Virginia, certain ex-felons lose their voting privileges for life.

13% of black men currently have no voting privileges.

5.3 million Americans will not have the right to vote this November due to felony convictions.

In 2000, 614,000 ex-felons lived in Florida. The state went to Bush by 537 votes.

Ex-felons can be prohibited from becoming bus drivers, exterminators, dental hygienists, bartenders, cemetery managers, and nursing-care attendants.

In the 2003-04 school year, 29,000 former drug felons were denied student loans. But robbers and rapists were still eligible.

Drug felons in 18 states are permanently banned from receiving welfare.

Public housing programs can evict an entire family based on one member’s past drug felony conviction.

Because the 2000 census counted Americans based on where they “live and sleep most of the time,” 44,326 New York City residents were tallied as living in parts of the state where they were imprisoned.

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  • Justine Sharrock is a former Mother Jones staffer. Her most recent book is Tortured: How Our Cowardly Leaders Abused Prisoners, American Soldiers, and Everything We're Fighting For. For more of her stories, click here.