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EDITORIAL: Don't let inmates vote

EDITORIAL: Don't let inmates vote

While you're serving time in prison, you forfeit your right to participate in the democratic process
EDITORIAL: Don't let inmates vote
Photographer: Shutterstock

For many of the state’s proposed criminal justice reforms, there are legitimate legal and societal benefits to them.

Even in those initiatives for which the flaws hadn’t been identified and addressed before the laws were enacted, one can see the rationale behind them.

Eliminating cash bail, for instance, is designed to prevent indigent and minority criminal suspects from serving time in jail for minor and non-violent crimes due to their inability to make even small amounts of cash bail.

Discovery reform was designed to be fairer to criminal suspects by providing them with more information for their defense and to speed up the criminal justice process.

Allowing parolees to have their voting rights restored has the benefit of helping former inmates better readjust to society by making them active participants in the decision-making again. 

If the criminal justice system believes these inmates deserve to be released from prison, then it’s reasonable for the system to restore their other rights.

But there’s simply no benefit — to society, the criminal justice system or even the inmate — of allowing currently incarcerated inmates to vote.

Yet so-called justice reformers are proposing just that.

A bill introduced by Brooklyn Sen. Kevin Parker (S6821) would allow inmates to register and vote in all elections in the jurisdiction where they lived prior to being incarcerated — in all likelihood the places where they committed their crimes. The bill also would require the state to set up a mechanism for inmate voting, including, but not limited to, absentee voting. How voting by means other than absentee would be accomplished with ballots being cast over multiple jurisdictions is unclear.

And any voting system for prisons would come with a cost to taxpayers.

Only two states, Maine and Vermont, currently let inmates vote. There’s a reason the 48 other states don’t.

Prison is designed to protect society, to punish the perpetrator and to act as a deterrent to crime. If you, as a criminal, deprive individuals of their rights, you forfeit some of your own.

One of those rights is your freedom. 

The other is the right to participate in the democratic process through voting.

Some say another purpose of prison is rehabilitation. But exactly what rehabilitative purpose does allowing inmates to vote serve, especially for inmates who might not be allowed back into society for years? It doesn’t help them transition back into society because they’re not transitioning. It would just serve as a reward that they don’t earn until they’ve served their time.

Giving inmates the right to vote has no value to society or the legal system. 

It removes one of the punishments associated with their crimes.

And it undermines the credibility of other legitimate criminal justice reforms lawmakers have been trying to enact.

This is a nowhere bill with no reason for lawmakers to even consider it.
 

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