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Talk It Out: Should prisoners have a right to vote?

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Illustration by: Israel Gonzalez Staff Illustrator

Prisoners are still deserving of basic rights
By Allison Chavez

Prisoners should retain the right to vote. No matter the severity of their crime, they are still human beings deserving of basic rights.

If someone makes a bad decision at some point in their life, they shouldn’t be stripped of basic human rights. Committing a crime does not mean someone is less than human. If anything, making a mistake only proves how human they are.

In America, 17 states do not allow inmates to vote when imprisoned, but this sanction is lifted once they are set free.

Another 15 states don’t allow prisoners to vote while on parole or probation. An additional 13 states take away inmates’ rights to vote while in prison if they are convicted of a felony. However, this ban is enforced even after these individuals have been released from prison, and is something that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

This is far too many states for comfort. What the hell happened to our country being created with the intention of endowing everyone with the same basic rights, for crap’s sake? In contrast, Vermont and Maine are the only two states that do not retract any voting rights from prisoners. Be more like them, America.

According to those that strip prisoners of this fundamental right, prisoners should no longer be bound to those same societal rules since they broke the laws of society. Well, I call bullshit.

If we held everyone to that edict, then no one would be allowed to vote. Why? Because no one remains perfectly within the lines of society their whole lives. Our obstinate desire to test limits and break boundaries is a defining feature of being human.

Also, going to prison is not usually an end-all. Most prisoners will eventually be released back into the public to hopefully reintegrate back into society.

This process is hard enough while also not being allowed to take part in deciding who is going to be governing you. How are we supposed to expect former criminals to integrate back into society if they are continuously treated like convicts? If these prisoners are not allowed to vote, they are denied a fundamental right of every citizen.

It is unrealistic for society to expect former offenders to just fade back into life as upstanding citizens if we still treat them as branded criminals for life. Not allowing prisoners to vote, especially once they have been released from prison, is tantamount to marking them as something less than human and unworthy of basic human rights.

Some dissenters might actually view prisoners as something less than human, which is just preposterous. Prisoners have violated the rules society has placed upon its citizens, but this does not automatically make them subhuman imposters unworthy of the same basic rights and freedoms the rest of society enjoys.

Many prisoners are merely people who, for one reason or another, made a bad decision that landed them on the wrong side of the law. Making a bad choice is not an irredeemable mistake that should pervert every other aspect of their lives.

Voting should not be considered a privilege. It should not be something we hold over someone’s head as an incentive for good behavior. Voting is something that should be considered a right endowed in everyone from birth, and not something that can be taken away on a whim.

Prisoners should not be allowed to vote
By Elena Lara

Should prisoners be allowed to vote?

No.

If a prisoner cannot or will not follow the set of laws making up our nation, they should not be entrusted to make the law, which is essentially what voting is about.

There are standards when it comes to voting and who should be allowed to vote. Children, non-citizens and the mentally ill are not permitted to vote simply because there are standards that need to be met before given a role in self-government. Clearly, people who have committed a crime don’t meet those standards.

The minute criminals knowingly and willingly commit a crime, they lose the privilege to certain civic rights, such as voting. They are put behind bars for a reason—they are dangerous murderers, thieves and rapists, not law-abiding citizens.
Voters typically have the intentions to positively affect the nation. A criminal is not someone who seems to have the country’s best interest in mind.

In one form or another, laws that disenfranchise felons have existed in the United States since its founding. These laws were accepted out of the concept of a disciplinary criminal justice system—those convicted of a crime violated social norms, and therefore, have proven themselves unfit to participate in democratic life.

We also need to focus on the fact that prisoners are not very well informed about the political scope when incarcerated. Prisons are meant to keep its inmates locked in and the outside world locked out. Being cut off from society is a certain drawback when it comes to voting. In order to benefit the nation, voters need to be well versed and altruistic.

People claim the ban of political involvement for prisoners is pointless because it won’t stop criminal activity, but then argue that voting participation is an incentive and can benefit their rehabilitation. If that is the case, then this is no longer about fundamental rights but about social policy.

Recidivism is also a risk for ex-criminals. People already convicted of a crime and who have already undergone rehabilitation run a seriously high risk to relapse and be reconvicted for another crime. The U.S. Bureau of Justice reports that “over two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested within three years.” After tracking inmates from 30 states in 2005, they reported 76.6 percent of inmates were arrested within five years of being released. People with criminal intents should not take part in determining the outcome of elections.

According to the Sentencing Project, 48 states prohibit inmates with felonies from voting, 35 do not allow parolees to participate in voting, 31 exclude those on probation and only two states—Maine and Vermont—allow inmates to vote.
As Roger Clegg, president and genera counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, says, “If you aren’t willing to follow the law, you can’t claim the right to make the law for everyone else.”

I do agree that their rights should be restored after rehabilitation, probation and parole. Even then, they must prove their ability to reenter society as law-abiding citizens. Abstaining voting rights to presently incarcerated people is simply a necessary price to pay before a long road to reemergence in society.