Discursive Essay On Should Prisoners Be Allowed To Vote

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Debate: Prisoners right to vote

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Should people serving prison sentences be permitted to vote in elections?

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Background and context

Many countries restrict the right of those sentenced to imprisonment to vote in elections. For example, convicted prisoners are automatically banned from voting in Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxemburg, Romania, Russia and the United Kingdom. In Australia, prisoners are only entitled to vote if they are serving a sentence of less than three years. Only two US states (Maine and Vermont) permit prisoners to vote, although Utah and Massachusetts also did so until 1998 and 2000 respectively. In France and Germany, courts have the power to deprive people of voting rights as an additional punishment, but this is not automatic.
Eighteen European states, including Spain, the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, place no formal prohibition on prisoners voting. In practice, however, it is often difficult for prisoners in some of these countries to vote: in the Republic of Ireland, prisoners have the right to be registered to vote in their home constituency, but have no right to either a postal vote or to be released to cast a vote at a ballot box. Since 1999, South Africa has had no restrictions on the right of prisoners to vote. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that prisoners should not be denied the right to vote; the first federal election in which Canadian prisoners in federal jails (generally those serving sentences of two years or more) were permitted to vote was in 2004. The issue is particularly controversial in the United Kingdom and the USA. In April 2001, the British High Court rejected a case brought by John Hirst (a man serving a life sentence for manslaughter), who argued that the ban on prisoners voting was incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. In March 2004, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British government was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights; the European Court’s Grand Chamber rejected the British government’s appeal in October 2005. As of June 2006, however, there has been no change in UK law on the matter. Much controversy in the USA results from the fact that, in some states, people who have been in prison are banned from voting for the rest of their lives, even after they have fully served their sentences. This is especially controversial in Florida, given the closeness of the 2000 presidential election result there and the fact that a disproportionately large number of ex-convicts are black or Hispanic (statistically, more likely to be Democrat voters). One in forty Americans of voting age are ineligible to vote because they are, or have been, in prison. The arguments below relate directly to whether those currently serving prison sentences should be allowed to vote, but could readily be adjusted for a debate about whether ex-convicts should have this right.

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Democracy: Does prisoner voting uphold democratic practices?

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Yes

  • Allowing prisoner voting respects democratic practices. Even governments can choose to rule that prisoners forfeit their right to vote or deserve the punishment of being deprived their vote, we should ask, "what's the higher road?". In terms of democracy, the higher road is to extend the vote to all citizens, including citizens that have commited crimes and are imprisoned (they are still citizens). This is the higher ground.
  • Depriving prisoners a vote wrongly disenfranchises them The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the infringement of prisoner voting rights did not meet the test for what's considered "reasonable." Justice McLachlin wrote, "The wholesale disenfranchisement of all penitentiary inmates, even with a two-year minimum requirement, is not demonstrably justified in our free and democratic society."[1]
  • Prisoners should have very right to make a decision based on their own morals . Part of the freedom of this country is the freedom to choose based on personal moral ethics. Several debates have been held discussing whether or not people should take a test to decide whether or not they are aware enough of the issues to make their choice. However this debate has been won a hundred times over based on the fact that people have the right to make decisions based on their own reasoning. If that reasoning is sufficient is a matter of personal opinion, something that has no place in our legal system.
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No

  • Prisoner voting would demean the entire electoral system. The electoral system is based on a society's collective sense of respect for the law, citizenship, and democratic processes. These are precisely the values that felons have flaunted. In this way, offering them a right to vote demeans the entire spirit of the electoral system.
  • Felons have bad judgement, should not help elect reps Tucker Carlson, MSNBC News Commentator. "The Situation with Tucker Carlson". June 26, 2006. - "Now why would we, as citizens, as non-felon citizens, want felons helping to pick our representatives. If you're a convicted felon, convicted of a violent crime, you have bad judgment. Why do we want people with that judgment picking our representatives?"[4]

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Rights: Do prisoners have a "right" to vote?

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Yes

Voting Rights of Prisoners. Australian Democrats Action Plan. - "Prisoners do not lose all their rights in prison, only some of them. Other rights are inalianable and are guaranteed by international and domestic law."
National Voter Registration Act of 1993. U.S. Congress. October, 1998 - "The Congress finds that the right of citizens of the United States to vote is a fundamental right."[5]
  • Prisoners have a right to express interests through voting The needs of prisoners are currently not represented. Issues such as prison overcrowding and abuse by warders are not treated seriously as political issues, since those most directly affected cannot vote and the public generally has little interest in prisoners’ well-being.
  • Prisoners must be able to influence world they will re-enter. Prisoners should also have the opportunity to influence the formation of policy on healthcare, education, the environment and all the other issues that affect the world into which almost all of them will some day be released.

No, they are not part of society

There is really no polite way to say this so here’s the thing; they are put behind bars because they have committed a crime and therefore are dangerous to society. From rapists to murderers to thieves and the like, these prisons keep them all and in the process, make the country safer to live in. When you break the law, you have no business enjoying the rights that would otherwise have been at your disposal had the crime not been committed. 

Anyone that breaks the law doesn’t have the country’s best interests at heart. So how can such people be allowed to vote?

Yes, people do change, and usually when someone shows an improvement in their behaviour, their sentence is sometimes reduced, of course depending on the crime they committed. If the state believes someone has reformed to the level that they can be trusted to live with others again, they are let out of prison. And then the person can have their rights again.

I am not advocating for an inhumane criminal justice system but they are locked up because of poor decisions that led to chaotic actions. They got themselves into that mess so they should get themselves and behave well to serve a lighter sentence. 

I completely agree that prisoners need to be educated because when they finally get out, they can be beneficial to society instead of being idle and disorderly.

Letting prisoners vote is devaluing the country. It is funny to say that denying a prisoner a chance to vote is a violation of human rights. Although some prisoners are not necessarily evil, when behind bars, they are not part of the citizens that can demand full rights.

We simply shouldn’t tamper with our judicial system. As I’ve already argued, prisons need to reform and rehabilitate their inmates to truly cut crime.

People need to understand that there are consequences to committing a crime. It does not go away unpunished. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. And when you are doing time, do not expect your rights to be considered because when the crime was being committed, the one responsible didn’t consider anything.

This is not something we should look deep into; this is not something that will keep you up at night. Prisons are for separation and rehabilitation, not pampering them with rights.

Finally, the government of Rwanda is already doing too much for prisoners above and beyond their rights. I think they should first absorb that great treatment before we even think of giving them more.

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Yes, they can still play their civic duty

The issue of whether prisoners should be allowed certain civil liberties is highly contentious because of the intricacies of the law punishing the offense committed; although prisoners have been lucky to access certain liberties like right to education, exercise and entertainment materials such as radio, CD players, cassette recorders and television, some of these rights are subject to the situation in the prison.

Prisoners are not allowed to vote in any election given the fact that they lose their freedom once they are convicted. But, I believe they should be given a right to vote since voting is a right, not a privilege, and actually I think it’s a responsibility. I would agree that prisoners wouldn’t put it at the top of the list of things they want but maybe that’s because it is not given to them.

It’s the same way you would find that voting is not on top of the list of the first 50 people on the street you come across. It’s still an important civic responsibility. In other ways, voting can be more important if you lose your freedom, because we want to reintegrate people, we want them to see themselves as citizens, even if they’re in prison.

People might argue that allowing them to vote can be expensive and unrealistic but it is unjustifiable since they are not in prison because the system wants to cut costs. Similarly, the fact that prisoners lose many freedoms does not imply they should lose all their civil rights.

Denying them the right to vote is likely to undermine the respect for the rule of law. Allowing prisoners the right to vote, however, may strengthen their social ties and dedication to the common good; thereby encouraging legally responsible involvement in the civil society.

If we really want convicted felons to re-engage with society, become transformed, and feel like part of a broader community, we should do everything possible to re-integrate these individuals into ordinary society. In terms of being a just society, it is not fair if some people have to give up their voting rights just because we think they can’t be useful. If we can use them in other nation building activities, why not allow them to vote?

Instead of denying them the right to vote, we should discuss about what prison is for, what we do with long-term prisoners, and issues about self-injury, inactivity, violence and expense. Prisoners are more likely to be aware of the dangers of such issues and how much they cost society if they are allowed to vote.

And it shouldn’t be about voting for top offices, they should be allowed to vote in grass root elections as well. If we encourage the relationship between prisoners and local government, prisoners are likely to pay more attention to issues of resettlement and employment.

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