What Rights Do Convicted Felons Lose?

prisoners in jail
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Convicted felons face a number of difficulties when attempting to reintegrate themselves into society. Finding work is perhaps the biggest challenge, but convicted felons may also find it difficult to find a rental apartment or participate in many areas of life that most Americans take for granted. Many individuals and groups consider this circumstance to be part of the just punishment for those who break the law, even if such punishment persists well after the convicted felons have completed their sentences.

The Right to Vote

Most states prohibit individuals who are incarcerated from voting while they are serving their terms, or even while they are on parole. Even after completing their sentences, many convicted felons find it challenging to restore their voting rights. Some states impose a waiting period during which time the felon cannot vote; others won't reinstate voting rights unless the felon is officially pardoned. Other states bar convicted felons from voting permanently.

Read More: Which States Allow Convicted Felons to Vote?

The Right to Hold Public Office

There is no provision in the Constitution that prohibits convicted felons from seeking and holding national level public office. However, each house of Congress is allowed to take a vote to expel any member deemed unfit or unqualified to serve. This provision is often used to remove senators and representatives whose involvement in unsavory or illegal activities has been exposed, as well as those members who have actually been convicted of felonies. State laws vary, but many states bar convicted felons from seeking or holding elective office. Officials convicted of felonies while in office may be removed under the same laws.

The Right to Bear Arms

Firearms dealers are required to run background checks before making a sale. The check is run electronically, so the dealer can find out straight away whether someone is eligible to buy a firearm. Most of the time, having any type of a criminal record stops you from purchasing a firearm, although laws vary from state to state.

The Right to Travel Abroad

Convicted felons are not barred from obtaining a passport in the United States. However, they often face severe restrictions in traveling abroad, because many countries block entry or impose strict visa requirements for individuals with criminal records. Unlike a passport, a visa is seen as a privilege, and the issuing country has the right to refuse entry to any person seen as a threat or as unsuitable, including convicted felons.

Public Social Benefits

Convicted felons are blocked from applying for state or federal grants, living in public housing, and receiving Supplemental Security Income and food stamps. They might also lose some of their parental rights, especially if they are fighting a custody battle. A judge might look at the convicted felon's record and decide that it's in the child's best interest to live with the other parent.

Moving to Another State

Moving to a different state will not automatically restore the rights a convicted felon has lost. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution requires states to respect the laws of other states, and courts of one state must usually respect the rulings of courts in another state. The best advice is to consult with an attorney to figure out how and when your rights might be restored.


  • A felony record will severely curtail your voting rights, right to bear arms, public social benefit rights, housing rights, parental rights, the right to hold public office and your ability to travel abroad.

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