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What Rights Do Convicted Felons Lose?

Convicted felons lose rights from voting to employment, depending on their state of residence. While some of the rights convicted felons lose may be restored over time, some of the rights are lost forever. Throughout the United States, some of the general rights convicted felons lose are as follows, varying state by state:

  • Voting
  • Traveling abroad
  • The right to bear arms or own guns
  • Jury service
  • Employment in certain fields
  • Public social benefits and housing
  • Parental benefits

Let’s take a look at each one of these rights convicted felons lose in more detail.

What Rights Do Felons Lose?

Convicted felons are given restrictions within the law to help protect society. In addition to losing rights, convicted felons are also required to abide by certain regulations like regular drug screenings and sobriety treatment.

Voting Rights for Convicted Felons

Can felons vote? Voting rights for convicted felons vary depending on the state of their residence and incarceration. In some states, convicted felons lose rights to vote temporarily while they are serving the length of their sentence. Upon release from jail, they are able to vote once again.

In other states, convicted felons do not lose the right to vote at any time, while some states do not restore a convicted felon’s right to vote unless further action is taken on behalf of the inmate. For instance, the convicted felon can apply for a governor’s pardon or withstand a “waiting period” after they’ve been released. They might have to complete terms of probation or parole, or pay any outstanding fines, as well.

You may have heard the loss of felons’ voting rights referred to as “felony disenfranchisement.” To see how felony disenfranchisement works in your state, check out this map from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Traveling Abroad

Just as voting rights vary state by state, regulations dealing with traveling abroad vary by country. In the United States, if you are a convicted felon because of a drug-related felony, your passport may be revoked while you are serving out your sentence, including probation or parole.

However, the US is not the only country that implements travel restrictions if you are a convicted felon. Other countries enforce strict border control when it comes to allowing convicted felons into their territory. Canada, for example, has access to information about convicted criminals in the US through the US National Crime Information Center. So, if you are a convicted felon attempting to travel from the US to Canada, you may receive a background check before crossing the border. This could result in not being allowed to enter the country.

This is not the case for all countries, though. Many places do not have access to the same amount of information as Canada, so convicted felons can usually travel abroad without having any issues.

Felons’ Firearm Rights

It is possible for a convicted felon to receive firearm rights, though the process of doing so is easier in some states than in others. Gun restoration laws often require a convicted felon to either apply for felony expungement, petition for restoration of firearm rights, receive a governor’s pardon, or receive a federal pardon in order to have the right to purchase a gun again.

Employment Rights

Some of the most important rights that are impacted by a criminal record are employment rights. At the federal level, an employer is not allowed to use a prior conviction as a reason not to hire someone, unless the crime directly relates to the job. These include:

  • Public positions and employment with the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Teachers
  • Childcare professionals
  • Many other jobs that require a professional license

At the state level, however, employment rights can look a bit different. Employers are allowed to consider a convicted felon’s criminal history when deciding whether or not to hire him or her. Many private employers will conduct background checks and choose not to hire felons. They are allowed to discriminate in this way, but it is not a requirement.

Public Social Benefits and Housing

In addition to not being allowed to serve on a jury in most states, convicted felons are not allowed to apply for federal or state grants, live in public housing, or receive federal cash assistance, SSI or food stamps, among other benefits.

Child Custody for Convicted Felons

Depending on the crime, convicted felons don’t necessarily lose all parental rights, unless the person was convicted of a more serious offense – like murder. However, in situations where the convicted felon was the only parent involved in the child’s life, and the child was put into foster care for an excessive amount of time, the convicted felon may lose parental rights.

And while convicted felons may not legally lose parental rights at the time of a conviction, it may affect parental rights down the line, especially in the case of custody battles or divorces. A felony conviction is almost always a red flag for any judge to award custody to the other parent.

Legal Help For Restoring Convicted Felons’ Rights

Most felons’ rights that are lost during incarceration will be automatically restored when they are released from jail. However, if you are unsure what your rights, discuss this with a criminal defense lawyer. Since some rights are not automatically restored in some states, like the right to purchase a firearm, you may want to discuss how to appeal this with the attorney.

Another common reason convicted felons might need legal assistance is for child custody. If you have been in jail or prison and have lost your parental rights, speak to a child custody attorney to determine what you need to do upon your release.

In addition to all of these lost rights, a felony conviction is a permanent stain on a person’s record. Even if these are not necessarily lost rights, he or she may find difficulty getting a lease, applying for a loan or filing official paperwork in any capacity. To learn more about the rights convicted felons lose, here’s a deeper look at employment rights and firearm rights.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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