A Discussion on Whether Do Prisoners Deserve the Right to Vote

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Prison is torture and voting is self-defense. Voting is not a privilege, it is a fundamental right in any society that desires to serve the interest of its people. Citizenship is not a right that expires upon misbehavior or misconduct therefore to take away a prisoner’s right to vote because they have committed a crime is unjust. A prison is a building for the confinement of persons held while awaiting trial or sentenced after conviction (). Voting rights by no means ends at the prison gates. There are persons who think that prison should be a place that provides individual with a chance of rehabilitation as well as to create opportunities for healing and personal transformation that is often times absent in their lives. While some may argue that prisoners should be restricted of their voting rights, the message is a societal and a personal one as prisoners voting can be beneficial to both prisoners and society.

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Voting may strengthen a prisoner’s social ties and commitment to execute good thus promoting legally responsible participation in society. Steven Zindel (n.d) a criminal lawyer with more than 30 years of experience believes that the homeless, the wife beaters, the good sorts, the tax evaders, the saint and even the criminals made contribution to society, therefore prisoners should be able to express their right as a citizen of society. Restricting the rights to vote can serve to further alienate prisoners from the normative population therefore producing the type of strain that can cause them to reoffend (Jayakody, 2019). Are we surprised that many ex-convict choose the easy way out? Once they are released they are stigmatized without being given an opportunity to contribute to society. This is not different from a caste system, one of the darker days in our past. Research by Acharya, Blackwell & Sen (2015) suggests that we should care about voting in prison as temporary gaps in voting will have a long term impact on participation. If we really care about prisoners post release political participation, it is important that they be able to participate while in prison. They do deserve a second chance but the burden is theirs to demonstrate that they have become law abiding citizens.

We can start with the issue of prisoner abuse. It is no secret that prisoners are subjected to abusive and inhumane conditions. According to Nelson (2015), hundreds of Jamaican, mostly males, are detained every year by the police and often subjected to cruel and degrading treatment while incarcerated in police lockups and in correctional and remand centres. This issue has been discussed countless times at a plethora of human rights-related locally and internationally. Under the current system, ending the abusive practices requires years of expensive litigation as prisoners sue over maltreatment. Their votes may widen the critical lens of lawmakers and society so that they can take a closer look at what happens in these institutions before they spiral into unaccountable violence and abuse. We could improve prisons much more quickly and cheaply by creating a political constituency of prison voters (Brettschneider, 2016). The Minister of Security Peter Bunting (2014) explained that 70% of persons sent into the correctional system had sentences of one year or less than 28% of those were repeat offenders. These young men are incarcerated with hardened criminals, given limited opportunities for rehabilitation and confined to cramped overcrowded cells with no modern sanitary conveniences for 18 hours per day.

For many victims, laws allowing their attackers to vote and have a say in government could be extremely troubling. (Evans,2019). Persons in prison are there because they commit a crime therefore they should not be given the same right as law abiding citizens. Hans A. von Spakovsky a Senior Legal Fellow and Manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation. He believes that the right to vote should not be restored until felons have been released and shown that they really have learned their lesson. Prisoners should not be given the opportunity to vote as this will send a negative message to society that the government is soft on crime and is not able to effectively enforce the laws.

A government that restricts a selected portion of citizens is a government that weakens its ability to function as a legimate representative of the excluded citizens, jeopardizes its claim to represents society and erodes the basis of its right to convict and punish law breakers. Denying prisoners the right to vote misrepresents the nature of our rights and obligation under the law and consequently undermines them. Perimbanayagam & Aswad (2019), stated that after serving their sentences, ex-convicts have to start a new life when they return to society. It is this life that the Prison Department needs to focus on and work to change the behaviour of inmates. This can be done by providing a series of vocational training inside the prison and on-the-job programmes. Katie Feifer who is 62 years old was raped at knife point by a man who was hired to paint her house in Oak Park, Illinois. She made the following statement “What that man did to me is horrendous, but he is still a human being. He is still a member of society, even though he is incarcerated. He has interests, he has family, and he is affected by our country’s laws and policies”. The bible says that let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Yes, prisoners have committed crime and yes some of those are egregious however grave exception should be the only reason to deprive any citizens to vote. A person behind bars remains a citizen and entitled to equal protection and benefits of the law given to all citizens. (Brettschneider, 2016).

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