The necessary, even noble, cause of protecting voter rights tends to rush by former prisoners. Fortunately, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is with the program. He calls out the counterproductive stupidity of permanent disenfranchisement of those who have served their sentences.
Yet in 11 states, even after release, with no probation or parole, former inmates are permanently barred from that most basic rite and right of democracy, casting ballots in elections. Those states are not all Southern, the stupidity spreads through the plains and Southwest. Even allegedly enlightened MA denies prisoners the vote.
Many people will think and even say, “Serve’s ’em right.” Honk. Wrong answer.
As Holder pointed out last week in a speech on justice reform, former prisoners denied real re-entry into society are three times (33% v. 11%) more likely to re-offend, harm society and return to prison. I recall decades ago interviewing the commissioner of corrections in South Carolina, the actually enlightened William D. Leeke. He said it best and plainly, that people are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. The loss of liberty is the penalty.
Today, at Left Ahead, Ryan Adams indulged me on this subject. He noted this is both long-hanging fruit and obvious to-do.
Our 23 minutes on the topic follows:
Yet, this subject gets little interest. Holder, among others, cites the evidence and analysis compiled by the Leadership Conference in its recent A Second Chance Re-Entry Report. Among its findings are that 5.8 million Americans are thus disenfranchised. One of 13 African-American men are, four times the rate of non-African-American men.
A key concept here is that the laws that allow this are perpetually punitive. It should be enough to know that doing this cuts off ex-prisoners from society and encourages their recidivism. Instead, many have some medieval concept or perhaps sense of schadenfreude that once you’ve done something wrong, there is no redemption, no forgiveness.
There’s a feeble attempt to remedy this nationwide through such efforts at the Democracy Restoration Act. Introduced in the U.S. House in June 2011, it is moldering in the Subcommittee on the Constitution. Lackaday, it had a single sponsor, John Conyers Jr. of MI and two co-sponsors, William Macy Clay of MO and Edolphus Towns of NY. Clearly, it goes nowhere until more co-sponsors sign or or a heavy-hitting Rep picks it up.
I’ve asked my guy, Rep. Mike Capuano, to get with this program.
We can hear the states-rights bozos saying the same thing as the anti-marriage-equality folk do with let-each-state do this. Yet we also know that on big issues Congress or the Supremes jump in, as they did with and Voting Rights Act and such.
We are the only democracy that pulls this crazy stuff. We need to knock it off. If you are supposed to pay your debt to society, then we need to clear the ledger.