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December 11, 2020

Lesson Plan: What is felony disenfranchisement?

Clarence Singleton registers to vote with Rosey Brockamp (L) and Sheryl Podley, who are voter registration workers, at the Lee Country Supervisor of Elections office on January 08, 2019 in Fort Myers, Florida. Mr. Singleton is able to register to vote for the first time after his right to vote was taken away in 2008 as a new constitutional amendment took effect, which automatically restores voting rights to most people who have felonies on their record. The referendum overturned a 150-year-old law that barred people with felony convictions from voting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This lesson is part of our Searching for Justice series on criminal justice reform.

For a Google doc version of this lesson, click here. (You will need to make a copy of the doc to edit it.)

Overview: Individuals convicted of felonies face numerous punishments beyond serving time in jail or prison. Federal and state governments have enacted a large number of additional restrictions on formerly incarcerated individuals. This lesson focuses on felony disenfranchisement (restrictions on the right to vote) and describes other “collateral consequences,” or punishments and restrictions beyond prison. Students will explore a number of digital resources, including an article, a video and interactive websites to analyze restrictions that people convicted of felonies face.

Subjects: U.S. History, U.S. Government & Civics, Criminal Justice, Legal Studies

Estimated Time: One or two 50-minute class periods (this lesson would also fit well as an asynchronous/distance learning lesson)

Grade Level: 7th-12th grade

Objectives:

  • Students will examine “collateral consequences” that are associated with felony convictions and explore consequences in both their state and nationwide.
  • Students will evaluate and advocate for legislation related to criminal release, reentry, or reintegration
  • Students will analyze the issue of “felony disenfranchisement” across the country and a case study in the state of Florida.

Activities:

Students will begin by reviewing the accompanying Google doc, either in class or as an asynchronous lesson. (You will need to have students make a copy of the document so they can fill it out and add their names.)

Warm-up activity:

Watch this video profile of Bryan Stevenson, whose organization, Equal Justice Initiative, provides legal representation to those who cannot afford it throughout the South, including children. Start by asking your students what Stevenson means when he says, “We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Main activity:

  1. Have your students answer the questions on the Google doc handout which guides them through the following resources:
    • An article from The Conversation that outlines consequences for felony convictions across the country.
    • An interactive database called Collateral Consequences from the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
    • A database to track Reentry and Criminal Records related legislation at the state level.  
    • A short video from PBS NewsHour that examines issues with the restoration of voting rights for felons in the state of Florida.
    • An interactive map of Felony Disenfranchisement from the Brennan Center for Justice 

Extension activities:

This lesson uses a video segment from PBS NewsHour’s “Searching for Justice” series. Searching for Justice explores criminal justice reforms unfolding across the country, as the leaders from both sides of the political aisle attempt to end mass incarceration by rethinking laws that some say have become barriers to work, housing, and economic stability. Click here for more stories and the series and watch for more NewsHour EXTRA lesson content based on Searching for Justice stories. Here is a short EXTRA lesson focused on the interview with Bryan Stevenson.


David Olson teaches at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, WI. Beyond teaching AP Government and Criminal Justice, David helps spread his passion for civic education by working with organizations like iCivics, the National Constitution Center, The National Humanities Center, and PBS NewsHour EXTRA.

 

 

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9: Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
    • C3 Standards
    • D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.
    • D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.

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