Who Are Americans? Interactive Exercises

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Who Is in Prison?

Despite the many freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, the United States imprisons more of its people than any other country. Although African Americans make up only about 13 percent of the total U.S. population, they make up about 40 percent of the prison population. People convicted of violent crimes make up the majority of prison inmates, with drug offenders as the second largest group.

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1.
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What percentage of those in U.S. prisons are white? Hispanic?
2.
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What percentage of those in U.S. prisons have committed violent offenses? Property offenses?

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3.
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How many people are incarcerated for every 100,000 people living in the United States? How does this number compare to France and Switzerland? To the Russian Federation?
4. Due process guarantees the same legal protections to anyone accused of a crime. However, studies have shown that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be jailed—and jailed for longer—than whites convicted of similar crimes. Is this a violation of civil liberties?

The criminal justice process, which is connected to many civil liberties guarantees, can have important implications for the exercise of a civil right: voting. In this map, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law tracks felony disenfranchisement laws, laws that may restrict the ability to vote based on whether one has committed a felony.

5. Does a felony conviction make a person ineligible to vote in all states? Explain your answer.
6.
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Which states permanently disenfranchise people with felony convictions? What disenfranchisement law, if any, does your state have?
7.
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Which states restrict some people with felony convictions from voting? Explain, in your own words, how one of these states defines who is disenfranchised.
8. Do you think felony convictions are relevant to being able to vote? Why or why not? Do potential consequences such as restrictions on voting eligibility make you think differently about the due process rights of the criminally accused, in particular, for African Americans and Hispanics? Why or why not?

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