WASHINGTON -- Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. called on states Tuesday to repeal laws disenfranchising former prisoners, saying they are a vestige of efforts by the South after Reconstruction to keep African Americans out of the voting booth.
Holder, speaking to a criminal justice forum at Georgetown Law School in Washington, cited studies that he said demonstrate that recidivism is reduced by as much as two-thirds when former inmates are allowed to vote.
"These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive," Holder said, according to an advanced text released by the Justice Department. "By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.
"It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values" to keep such laws on the books, Holder said at the forum sponsored in part by the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights. "These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed."
Holder, who in recent months has been increasingly outspoken about civil rights, said that an estimated 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting by such laws, nearly half of them black. In Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, he said, one in five African American adults are banned from voting because of them.
While nearly half the states have enacted meaningful reforms of such laws since 1997, Holder said, he singled out Iowa for "moving backwards" in 2011 by making it almost impossible for former prisoners to have their voting rights restored.