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Universal or qualified? Currently, 1.4 million African-American men – 13 per cent of all black men – are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. This is seven times the rate for all Americans. Even in a state like New York, race and ethnicity have a lot to do with whether a convicted felon gets sent to prison. Blacks found guilty of felonies are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison as opposed to probation. Blacks constitute less than 16 per cent of New York state’s population but account for almost 51 per cent of the 71,000 people in prison and 50 per cent of those on parole. Latinos, about 15 per cent of the state population, are almost 30 per cent of the prison population and 32 per cent of those are on parole. Such numbers can be seen as the latest expression of discrimination going back to colonial days.

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