Society of Fellows Dinner Discussion with MU Law Professor S. David Mitchell
The Kinder Forum’s undergraduate Society of Fellows welcomed University of Missouri Law School Professor S. David Mitchell as the featured speaker for its monthly dinner debate, held November 13, 2014, at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia. Dr. Mitchell began his talk by framing the issue of felon disenfranchisement within the historical context of a disconnect between the principle and practice of equality in the United States that dates back to the founding of the nation, and that has been addressed by legislation such as 14th, 19th and 26th Amendments. However, he noted that, in spite of the efforts to extend suffrage and full citizenship to groups once denied these rights, a fundamental hypocrisy endures. In a nation founded on the sentiment that individuals deserve to have a say in how they’re governed, numerous jurisdictions, without compelling reason, still deny ex-offenders the right to vote that is so central to the meaning of citizenship. Moreover, Dr. Mitchell argued that this form of exclusion goes beyond denying ex-offenders the franchise. The collateral consequences that they face upon being released from prison–employment and housing barriers, custody and travel restrictions, and disbarment from government contracts, to name but a few of many–only “further diminish their status as citizens,” leaving them, he claimed, “effectively and permanently locked out of society.” Dr. Mitchell then explored a number of the other components of this issue, including the difficult process of restoring ex-offenders’ rights and the negative impact that felon disenfranchisement has on the collective voice of marginalized communities. With regard to the latter, he showed how the practice of counting imprisoned individuals’ residence as where they’re incarcerated not only denies their home communities–the communities to which, in many cases, they will return–certain jurisdictional benefits based on census results but also artificially inflates the political power of prison districts. After examining failed attempts to challenge disenfranchisement in the courts, Dr. Mitchell concluded by arguing that the hypocrisy underlying his talk’s subject has found new manifestation in the voter ID laws passed in recent years.
Professor Mitchell, an interdisciplinary scholar whose research focuses on the criminal justice system, specifically the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, joined the University of Missouri School of Law faculty in 2006. He has served as a Missouri Supreme Court Faculty Fellow researching ex-offender reentry in Missouri. Prior to joining the faculty, he was a Scholar in Residence in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and served as a law clerk to the Honorable Andre M. Davis, formerly of the U.S. District Court. He has been recognized for his teaching – Gold Chalk Award (2009), and his contributions outside the law school – Legion of Black Collegians Minority Faculty and Staff Appreciation Award (2011). In 2012, he earned his doctorate in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania with his dissertation entitled, “Unintended Consequences?: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Obstacles that Prevent Successful Ex-Offender Reentry and Reintegration and the Societal Impact.” He is an affiliate member with the MU Black Studies Program and a Policy Research Scholar with the MU Institute for Public Policy.