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Friday, October 19, 2018

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Former prison inmates should have equal opportunity to vote


Granting formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote should be common sense, but not in all places. Several states have different degrees of restrictions that bar these individuals from voting. For example, in states like Florida, all people with a felony conviction are permanently banned from voting. By contrast, those in Nevada are allowed to  vote given that they meet specific criteria.

These restrictions on the voting rights of former prison inmates has resulted in approximately 6.1 million Americans being deemed legally ineligible to cast their ballot at the polls. 

In the United States, there is a cognitive dissonance regarding the treatment of incarcerated individuals. For the majority of people, it goes without question that individuals who commit crimes, especially ones that place other people in danger, should serve time in a rehabilitative prison setting.

However, when the time comes to release these inmates, the public often fails to fully recognize the freedom of the recently released. Instead, society places negative labels on former convicts, creating a period of “extended sentencing”, where previously incarcerated individuals continue to be confined and defined by their sentences in the free world.

This extended sentencing created by negative labels is antithetical to what it means to issue a rehabilitative prison sentence because it prevents a reformed individual to continue growing and progressing in society.

Providing former inmates with the right to vote does not forgive them for their actions, but rather recognizes their humanity, makes it clear that their prison time is over and allows them to continue to prosper in the world outside of prison.

Suffrage a benefit for ex-convicts and society

Restoring the right of formerly incarcerated citizens to vote could mean a safer, more rehabilitated America. Stripping convicts of suffrage limits the representation of their voice in politics and governmental decisions, further alienating them from our democratic society.

In being overlooked by society due to their status as a former convict, it is no wonder that recidivism rates among federal offenders in the United States is hovering around 49.3 %.

States could contribute to ending this cycle of imprisonment by implementing social programs to help former inmates readjust to life in society and restoring liberties given to all U.S. citizens, which includes the right to vote.

Proponents of restrictions on suffrage for felons argue that these individuals cannot be trusted with the right to vote, as they’ve demonstrated impaired judgement in the past. Others worry that this would mean giving the right to vote to murderers, rapists and burglars. These arguments, based largely in fear, are short-sighted and fail to understand the purpose of a criminal justice system.

Many of these fear-inciting felony crimes are capital crimes, which means that the penalty will result in decades, if not life, in prison. This means that individuals who are ultimately set free have either exercised exceptional behavior, served a long sentence under due process of the law, or both. 

Giving freed felons the right to vote is not granting suffrage to murderers, rapists and burglars who are ready to commit crime again, but rather to rehabilitated individuals looking to once again participate in a free world. 

As of right now, 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the United States- a number no other country comes close to. Many of these prisoners have already been out of prison and are now back serving their second or even third sentence. This problem is exacerbated by the civil death, or removal of civil liberties, that our country assigns to those who are released from prison.

Other countries have much more reasonable standards or no restriction at all on former felons voting. Examples include Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and South Africa. 

So while granting suffrage to released criminals certainly won’t solve the problemit will mean a step in the right direction toward reintegrating former inmates into society.

Opinion columnist Ryan Nowrouzi is a biomedical sciences junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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