Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Vote: Essay
Can you imagine what it would be like to be dumb? Not being able to express your opinions because no one cared to pay attention to your gibberish. For many inmates, disenfranchisement, which is the act of depriving one’s right to vote, is identical to being democratically dumb. The issue of felon disenfranchisement has been a long-standing one in our Jamaican history, and in support of that, many have argued that prisoners are not responsible citizens so they should not vote. On the contrary, prisoners should have the right to vote because they too have issues that they want the government to address, and dehumanizing the inmates by disenfranchisement is not helping them to prepare for rehabilitation.
Prisoners should have the right to vote because prisoners too have issues that they want the government to address. A major issue that has been a concern for many, including the astonished onlookers of our penal system, is the conditions of our prisons. Nelson (2015) stated that the conditions of the Jamaican prisons and the inhumane treatment of the prisoners have been discussed countless of times; however, the Jamaican government is not doing much to address them. According to Robottom (2011), international bodies such as the UN human rights committee have found that the Jamaican government has violated basic prisoners’ rights on numerous occasions. If the inmates were not dumbed by disenfranchisement, the government would have to take their issues into perspective because their vote would be at stake and therefore, they will try to ensure that the conditions are at least better. Additionally, legislation is formed by the legislators elected by the citizens. The inmates should have a say in the decisions that the government makes while they are incarcerated because it will inevitably affect them once they are released. We removed this individual from society, segregated for years. Then we reintegrated the ex-convicts into society and expect them to function in a normal civilized manner. Imagine having gone through incarceration and the laws as you knew them before are now changed, you were never asked for your opinion. Would you be able to connect the missing dots of all the changes that were made while you were confined to that barred six by eight feet box?
Furthermore, prisoners should have the right to vote because dehumanizing the inmates by disenfranchisement is not helping them to prepare for rehabilitation. After serving a prison sentence, prisoners are re-integrated into society with the expectation that they have been reformed. Behan and Ian O’Donnell (2008) mentioned in their journal that socially excluding inmates and ex-convicts contributes to recidivism. Removing the voting rights of the inmates for such an extensive period does not facilitate the hearing of their opinion, as a result, the ex-convicts may resort to their old mischievous ways of crime in order to bring themselves back to the spotlight. Notwithstanding, the converse may also occur, where ex-convicts neglect their civic responsibility to participate in the electoral process because they have become accustomed to disenfranchisement. Either way, both outcomes do not help with rehabilitation. Instead, the focus should be on changing the inmate as mentioned in an article by Brown-Coverdale (2014) which stated that helping prisoners to build skills for voting and democratic engagement helps prisoners to develop skills they will need when they are released. Rehabilitation, true rehabilitation, requires the government to focus on changing the mindset of those who have run afoul of the laws of our land through encouragement and inclusiveness in the form of enfranchisement.
Conversely, others may argue that prisoners are not responsible citizens and therefore, should not be allowed to vote. Clegg (2018) has opined that voting is a responsibility people who commit serious offenses against their fellow citizens do not meet the standard to bear such responsibility. It would mean that kids, the mentally incompetent, and non-citizens also qualify to select the government. Some may even say felons are a homogeneous group of individuals who can be easily corrupted by politicians to vote in favor of a party that will be most lenient on them.
While it is true that prisoners may not be responsible citizens, revoking their voting privileges will not make them become responsible citizens. Voting is a democratic responsibility that gives citizens of a country the task to select just leaders who will make sound decisions on behalf of the nation. Brown-Coverdale (2014) wrote that if voting is a democratic responsibility, then voting should be encouraged because it will instill a sense of civic responsibility in the inmates. Moreover, research by Hamiliton-Smith (2012) on the issue of disenfranchisement has shown that there is no empirical evidence that suggests prisoners or ex-convicts, either as a group or as individuals, are at a higher risk of committing election-related offenses. In essence, making ex-convicts unable to vote due to them “Not being responsible enough” is a void statement because the onus is really on the penal system to reform the prisoner and make them become responsible citizens.
When one considers the more common view of felon disenfranchisement, one might agree that it helps to purify the electoral system of unscrupulous individuals. However, we must bear in mind that prisoners are faced with numerous challenges that are not being addressed by the government. Furthermore, stripping them of the basic human right to vote is just making the rehabilitation process more difficult as their opinions which can contribute greatly to societal development are muffled by these olden laws. You must remember that at any point in time, an infraction made by you could cause you to be in a headlock by black ink by which these laws were crafted.
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