Our ‘crooked timber’: Why is American punishment so harsh?

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3 Scopus citations


“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” Emmanuel Kant During the last few years, while writing on the disenfranchisement of ex-felons, I often wondered why, almost alone among Western democracies, we in the United States treated people “who had paid their dues” with such contempt. Almost every other democratic nation restores full voting rights to all ex-felons, and a considerable number, including Canada and 17 European countries, now extend the franchise even to offenders behind bars. Several countries consider the franchise so important that they actively encourage inmates to participate in the electoral process. Yet all but 2 of the 50 U.S. states deny prisoners the vote, and most bar probationers, parolees, and other nonincarcerated people from voting, either indefinitely or during a waiting period. Even for those eligible, restoration can include not only complicated bureaucratic procedures but also, until recently, DNA testing. Several states effectively bar some convicts from voting for life, treating them as debtors forever – a policy that “verges on the macabre.” Despite reforms to some American ex-felon disenfranchisement policies in recent years, laws barring all inmates from voting remain relatively popular in the United States – not only among the public, but also among leading Democratic politicians. In my opinion, the simplest way to explain why almost all U.S.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCriminal Disenfranchisement in an International Perspective
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780511576713
ISBN (Print)9780521875615
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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