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Felony Conviction Rates Up Sharply in Texas

The number of Texans in prison for felonies exceeds the national average.

Texas is one of five states to have more than 10 percent of its voting age population behind bars for felony convictions, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts that looks at the rise in felony incarcerations between 1980 and 2010.

The report shows that the number of adults prosecuted as felons nationally increased from 3 to just over 8 percent over thirty years. In 1980 just 3.3 percent of Texas prisoners were prosecuted and convicted as felons. By 2010, that number had risen to nearly 10-point-5 percent.

Even when lighter sentences come with probation, the stigma of a felony conviction affects job prospects and voting rights upon release. Michelle Phelps, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, told Pew that even a six-month probation is essentially “a life sentence” that ex-prisoners have to contend with.

Several states, including Texas, are taking steps to restore voting rights to released felons. Marc Levin, vice president of criminal justice policy at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, told the Pew Charitable Trusts that his group has supported legislation in Texas looking to make it easier for  felons to rejoin and become engaged members of their communities.

Data from the Washington D.C.-based think tank The Sentencing Project shows the racial divide among convicted felons as four African-American felony prisoners for every one white prisoner. In Texas about 2 and a half percent of the voting age population is disenfranchised, but that number jumps to more than 6 percent among Texas’ African-American population.