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Charlie Wiebe

Green Group
March 18, 2018

Critical Thinking Paper Final

Prisoner Voting Rights

Charlie Wiebe

Cap 9

Green Group

March 18, 2018


Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

According to Marc Mauer of the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, more than

6 million people will not be allowed to vote in this upcoming election as a result of

imprisonment. The state of Maryland should allow prisoners to vote, as it would result in

granting them the voice they deserve, it would give them a stake in civil society, and would help

prevent them from isolationism that may result in recidivism. Maine and Vermont are the only

states that allow prisoners to vote, along with Puerto Rico, and statistics show that this has had

positive consequences. Citizens of America must be allowed simple rights that affect themselves

and their families, as the United States of America is a democracy.

All citizens of the United States of America have the constitutional right to vote and

deserve a voice in civil society. Breaking the law does not revoke someone’s citizenship, and

therefore should not deny them the right of franchisement that is guaranteed to citizens by the

constitution. Since laws that are voted on by the public affect prisoners themselves, as well as

their loved ones, it is only appropriate in a just society that they are granted participation in

elections. Doug Burr, a prisoner serving a 60-year sentence for murder voted in the most recent

election. He described his politicism, saying that he had been following the campaign trails

closely. When explaining why he believes all prisoners deserve the right to vote, he said, “I look

at it like, OK, it could affect my family, could affect people I care about. So I show interest in it,

I get involved.” He voted for Hillary Clinton, as he recognized that it was the best choice for his

family and himself (Bangor Daily News). He reported that he researched and examined the

candidate’s viewpoints as much, if not more than most non-convicted citizens, in order to come

up with the most educated vote. Many prisoners are see the significance of a vote and do the
Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

same as Burr. Caspar Walsh, a workshop facilitator and writer in residence in prisons for The

Guardian described the prisoners he works with, saying that they are “human beings” who

“quickly see the need for a process of rehabilitation and help in stabilising their lives; lives more

often than not destroyed by economic deprivation, family breakdown and addiction.” This

demonstrates that even though prisoners may have committed crimes, they are still people with

value who have opinions, families, voices, and constitutional rights. In prison, being able to vote

is one of the few ways they are able to express their voices and protect the rights of themselves

and their families. The constitutional right to have a voice through voting is protected by the

fourteenth amendment, which states, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall

abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” This means that all citizens

of the United States must be given a vote, even criminals, as all people must be given the same

rights and privileges. Foster Bates, a criminal imprisoned in 2001, claims that though he may

have committed a crime, he’s still a U.S. citizen. He describes his situation and perspective on

the situation, saying, “​When I got incarcerated, they didn't say I'd lost my citizenship. I was born

and raised in this country, so our Constitution gives us the absolute right to vote." He is not the

only prisoner who feels this way.

Prisoners and ex-prisoners are more active in civic society when they are allowed a vote.

Puerto Rico, like Maine and Vermont, is unique, as it allows its prisoners to vote. According to

the Atlantic Newspaper and the World Prison Brief, 6,195 Puerto Rican prisoners voted in the

most recent republican primary elections. This is 59.1% of all Puerto Rican prisoners. According

to NBC News, only 23% of all Puerto Rican citizens voted in the recent vote to turn Puerto Rico

into a state. These statistics indicate that prisoners are more active in civic society, as measured
Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

by voting behavior, than the general population. Doug Burr, a prisoner in Maine, provides

another example of this. He followed the recent campaigns closely, and was very involved in

politics leading up to the election. After deep consideration, he chose the candidate who he

thought would best serve the people of America. In addition, without a political voice, prisoners

and ex-prisoners have less of a stake in civil society. In Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen’s

book, “Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy,” the authors describes

this idea, saying, “Denying prisoners the right to vote is likely to undermine respect for the rule

of law... Allowing prisoners to vote, by contrast, may strengthen their social ties and

commitment to the common good, thus promoting legally responsible participation in civil

society.” In 1999, the Constitutional Court of South Africa claimed that “​The universality of the

franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every

citizen signifies dignity and personhood.” The court understands that in order for one to feel as

though they are a part of their country, they must be allowed the right to vote. These statistics

and evidence suggest that it is inhumane to deny prisoners the right to vote, as it allows them be

active and gives them a stake in civic society.

The lack of voting rights further stigmatizes and isolates prisoners which could result in

recidivism. Moreover, the goal of incarceration is not only to punish people for a crimes, but also

to prepare them to re-enter the world and be a law-abiding citizens in the future. In social

psychologist Tom R. Tyler’s book, “Why People Obey the Law,” he explains that “those who

feel a sense of ownership in their government are less likely to commit crimes” (Washington

Post). One can feel a sense of ownership in their government simply by being granted the right to

vote. This will not only result in greater voting diversity, but less recidivism. Tom Dalton, the
Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform explained that though it may be

hard to feel connected to a community while incarcerated, it could help reduce recidivism and

crime (NBC News). This could simply be accomplished through allowing voting rights for

prisoners. An example is found in a 52 year-old ex-convict living in Maine. He served 19 years

in prison for manslaughter, but was able to stay politically engaged and part of his community.

While he was in jail, he petitioned lawmakers, founded a chapter of the National Association for

the Advancement of Colored People, voted, and more. This political engagement helped him be

prepared for the world after he finished his sentence. He has continued to be political involved in

his community, and has never gone back to jail (NBC News).​ Lisa Menard, commissioner of the

Vermont Department of Corrections, believes that recidivism can easily be reduced, as “​you’re

probably less likely to victimize [people]” if you are active in your community (NBC News). On

Bastoy Prison Island in Norway, prisoners are treated as normal people. Inmates possess

personal rooms, and live in conditions that are as similar to real life as possible, so prisoners are

prepared for life without crime when they get off the island. Though these conditions are

questionable, they have statistical evidence to prove that they work. According to the U.S.

Department of Justice, 76.6% of the 404,368 prisoners released from 30 states in 2005 were

rearrested within the next 5 years. Bastoy Prison has a recidivism rate of only 16%, claiming the

lowest rate in Europe.

In conclusion, allowing prisoners to vote would rightfully give convicts a voice and

uphold their constitutional rights, and would give ex-convicts a purpose in their community,

which correlates with reduction of recidivism. Moreover, voting regardless of race, color, or

previous condition of servitude is a given right granted to Americans by the Constitution of the
Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

United States. Maryland should follow Maine, Vermont, and Puerto Rico’s trails and allow

prisoners to vote.

Works Cited

James, Erwin. “The Norwegian Prison Where Inmates Are Treated Like People.” ​The Gaurdian​,

23 Feb. 2013.

Cholbi, Michael J. ​A Felon's Right to Vote​. Springer, 2009.

Durose, Matthew R., Cooper, Alexia D. Ph.D., Snyder, Howard N., Ph.D. ​Recidivism of

Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010​. U.S. Department of

Justice.

Guadalupe, Patricia. “Amid Historically Low Turnout, Puerto Ricans Vote for Statehood.”​NBC

News​, 11 June 2017.

The Constitutional Court of South Africa. Apr. 1999.

Manza, Jeff, and Christopher Uggen. ​Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American

Democracy​. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Mauer, Marc. ​The Sentencing Project​, ​www.sentencingproject.org/​.

Newkirk, Vann R. “Polls for Prisons.” ​The Atlantic​, 6 Mar. 2016.

“Puerto Rico (USA).” ​World Prison Brief​, 1 Jan. 1970,

www.prisonstudies.org/country/puerto-rico-usa.

Sharon, Susan. “Prison Inmates Can Vote in Maine, and Interest This Year Has Been High.”

Bangor Daily News​, 4 Nov. 2016.


Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

Sarhan, Jessica. “2016 Election: America's Prison Voters.” ​Al Jazeera​, 1 Oct. 2016,

www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/09/2016-election-america-prison-voters-16090

6085936094.html.

Timm, Jane C. ​Most States Disenfranchise Felons. Maine and Vermont Allow Inmates to Vote

from Prison.​ NBC News, 26 Feb. 2018,

www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/states-rethink-prisoner-voting-rights-incarcerat

ion-rates-rise-n850406.

Tyler, Tom R. ​Why People Obey the Law​. Princeton University Press, 2006.

United States. Cong. House. Committee on House Administration. ​Civil Rights Act of 1866

U.S. Constitution​. Amendment XIV

Walsh, Caspar. “Why Prisoners Should Be Given the Right to Vote.” ​The Guardian​, 5 June

2012.

Yaffe, Gideon. “Give Felons and Prisoners the Right to Vote.” ​The Washington Post​, 26 July

2016.
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Green Group
March 18, 2018

Annotated Bibliography

James, Erwin. “The Norwegian Prison Where Inmates Are Treated Like People.” ​The Gaurdian​,

23 Feb. 2013.

This newspaper article shows the journalist’s journey investigating a controversial yet

effective Norwegian prison.

Cholbi, Michael J. ​A Felon's Right to Vote​. Springer, 2009.

The goal of this Cholbi’s book is to argue punishing prisoners by not allowing them to

vote. He believes that it is unjust to do so in today’s democratic society.

Durose, Matthew R., Cooper, Alexia D. Ph.D., Snyder, Howard N., Ph.D. ​Recidivism of

Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010​. U.S. Department of

Justice.

This source, given by the U.S. Department of Justice, gives me raw statistics on

recidivism of American prisoners. I was able to use these statistics as evidence in my

paper.

Guadalupe, Patricia. “Amid Historically Low Turnout, Puerto Ricans Vote for Statehood.”​NBC

News​, 11 June 2017.


Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

This article provides me with the statistics on Puerto Rico’s general population’s voting

activity, so I could compare it with prisoners’ voting activity.

The Constitutional Court of South Africa. Apr. 1999.

In April of 1999, the Constitutional Court of South Africa met, and decided to let

prisoners vote.

Manza, Jeff, and Christopher Uggen. ​Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American

Democracy​. Oxford University Press, 2008.

This book is meant to expose the facts of felon disenfranchisement in civil society. It

explains the origins of voting laws, and gives statistics on voting right laws. It discusses

the impact of these laws on the Country.

Mauer, Marc. ​The Sentencing Project​, www.sentencingproject.org/.

The Sentencing Project is a research center that studies incarceration and recidivism, and

works to fight injustices in the criminal justice system.

Newkirk, Vann R. “Polls for Prisons.” ​The Atlantic​, 6 Mar. 2016.

This newspaper article supplied me with the number of Puerto Rican prisoners who voted

in the most recent election.

“Puerto Rico (USA).” ​World Prison Brief​, 1 Jan. 1970,

www.prisonstudies.org/country/puerto-rico-usa.

This database gives me statistics on Puerto Rican prisoners, including the total prisoner

population. I was able to create voting activity statistics using these numbers.

Sharon, Susan. “Prison Inmates Can Vote in Maine, and Interest This Year Has Been High.”

Bangor Daily News​, 4 Nov. 2016.


Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

This news article was written on how allowing prisoners to vote in Maine and Vermont

has helped those states. The newspaper interviewed Doug Burr for the article, and also

cited Marc Mauer and Roger Clegg.

Sarhan, Jessica. “2016 Election: America's Prison Voters.” ​Al Jazeera​, 1 Oct. 2016,

www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/09/2016-election-america-prison-voters-16090

6085936094.html.

In this article, the writer, Jessica Sarhan describes the stories of prisoners in Maine and

Vermont allowing to vote, and how it’s affected their lives.

Supreme Court. ​Trop v. Dulles​. 1958.

In this Supreme Court case, it was decided that citizenship could not be taken away as a

result of criminal behaviour.  

Timm, Jane C. ​Most States Disenfranchise Felons. Maine and Vermont Allow Inmates to Vote

from Prison.​ NBC News, 26 Feb. 2018,

www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/states-rethink-prisoner-voting-rights-incarcerat

ion-rates-rise-n850406.

In this story from NBC News, the effects of Maine and Vermont allowing prisoners to

vote are described. The story of Joseph Jackson is identified, and Tom Dalton, Roger

Clegg, and Lisa Menard are cited.

Tyler, Tom R. ​Why People Obey the Law​. Princeton University Press, 2006.

In this book, Tom R. Tyler addresses the point that people obey the law for respect and

dignity. This can be used in the political system to give prisoners more of a sense of

community.
Charlie Wiebe
Green Group
March 18, 2018

United States. Cong. House. Committee on House Administration. ​Civil Rights Act of 1866

This act states that all citizens have equal rights, protected by law. This means that all

citizens deserve a vote.

U.S. Constitution​. Amendment XIV

This amendment, similar the the Civil Rights Act of 1866, states that no citizens can be

flkdjfiff​denied equal rights, and all are protected by law.

Walsh, Caspar. “Why Prisoners Should Be Given the Right to Vote.” ​The Guardian​, 5 June

2012.

This newspaper article explains that prisoners are human beings, and being denied equal

rights can result in recidivism.

Yaffe, Gideon. “Give Felons and Prisoners the Right to Vote.” ​The Washington Post​, 26 July

2016.

In this article, Gideon Yaffe explains why he believes that all people, including prisoners,

deserve the right to vote. Tom R. Tyler is cited.