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Are Criminals Citizens? Are Non-citizens Criminals?

Once incarcerated, should people lose citizenship rights? Ancient Greeks believed “civic death” was part of democratic punishment. Most early American states included felony disenfranchisement in their founding constitutions. After black men won the right to vote in 1870, many states broadened what crimes would cost disenfranchisement, while “Black Codes” targeted African Americans for imprisonment. In 1965, the same year as the Voting Rights Act, new “war on crime” legislation drastically increased felony convictions. As of 2016, 35 states restrict ex-offender’s votes.

Should “illegal” immigrants be incarcerated? Starting in the 1880s, newcomers were detained at Ellis Island. After a judge condemned this “island prison” in 1954, the US stopped most immigrant detention. In 1996, new legislation mandated detention for large categories of non-citizens. Undocumented immigrants are now held in “non-criminal custody” in existing prisons, or new facilities resembling them, while their legal status is determined. Since 2010, a “bed quota” legally requires a minimum average number of people to be detained daily: 34,040 as of 2015.

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