This summer, President Obama called on Congress to make sweeping changes to America’s criminal justice system. Specifically, to limit the amount of people in jail.
Some 2.2 million people are incarcerated in our country right now, with another 4.7 million under parole or on probation. While the U.S. represents just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Though Obama’s impassioned plea for change was duly noted, the truth is Congress had already been working on legislation to fix this issue. It’s one of the rare instances these days in Congress of bipartisan support, as it’s undeniable how much federal tax dollars our exploding prison population is draining.
A problem is that Congress can only introduce reform for federal prisons, which holds just 200,000 of the nation’s prisoners. The rest are locked up in state and local penitentiaries. But the thought process is that federal reform could have a catalytic effect on those bodies.
The main points emphasis include reducing mandatory minimums, radical sentencing laws that mostly came about in the ’80s amid the country’s tough-on-crime mentality; reclassifying offenses; and instituting polices to decrease the likelihood of recidivism, or better ensuring that rehabilitated prisoners don’t end up locked up again.
But upon looking into this topic, something interesting caught my eye that I don’t think many people are aware of — the disenfranchisement of convicts. Studies show that 2.5 percent of America’s voting age population (or one in 40 adult Americans) cannot vote because they are convicted felons.
Prisoners can’t vote in 48 states. In 35 states, felons don’t regain their voting rights until they’ve been released and completed parole. In 30 states, you can not vote until you’re off probation. And in 11 states, felons never regain the right to vote.
Thirteen states, and Washington, D.C., let you vote as soon as you leave jail.
And two states, Maine and Vermont, lack restrictions for prisoners, meaning they can vote from jail by absentee ballot.
It’s one of those things that makes sense when you think about it, but the problem is that you don’t really think about it. Prisoners and their right to vote.
I just can’t help but find it hypocritical that our nation, which touts itself in its Democratic roots and the freedom it provides its citizens in choosing their own representatives, denies that right to a significant portion of our population.
That being said, I can absolutely understand why some people might have no problem with convicts losing their right to vote. It is, after all, their own undoing.
Critics may also argue that a prisoner is too uninformed to vote anyway, lacking awareness of politics and current events while in incarceration.
However, when you consider that the average non-incarcerated American is more likely to keep up with the Kardashians than current events, is there really much of a difference?