Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont has stirred a contentious debate as to whether or not inmates should have voting rights. Here’s my perspective and some food for thought…

Courting inmates as voters would do some good. It would give a voice to the truly rehabilitated and could perhaps inspire the ones who are working towards that with a sense of civic duty. The things that lead to crime are the same things that lead to crippled communities. Poor neighborhoods who repeatedly get exploited by politicians lead to people making desperate or thoughtless decisions based in social despair… crime. By empowering the inmate, a potential civil stakeholder, into electing a political candidate that can help change the shattered communities they came from, community members from those walks of life can find hope and a voice, even if the bad choice was made. Families could learn to trust governmental processes. The badge and the gun, and fear, wouldn’t be the only things they knew about law.

Another perspective is that in many states, the correctional system is the black hole of money. Taxpayers pay for a failed series of systems intended to keep the public safe. If you had any business that had a failure rate of 60% or higher, the business would be shut down and shunned. However, our “correctional” systems maintain steady recidivism of the same rates. Perhaps if those incarcerated could have skin in the game, there would be a level of transparency and investment in making people better via state government. Programs would be required to work. The people in prisons would become just that… people. A voting body.

I get it… there are flaws and holes in the concept. Its not a perfect idea, but neither are the decisions made about the incarcerated by lawmakers who’ve never concerned themselves with an out of control legal system. Nobody in prison could “vote away” the impact on victims. Nobody would vote away laws and erase crime. But it could inspire a better idea about what to do with 25% of the world’s imprisoned people… the ones that exist in our county of 330 million.

Whether you agree with inmate voting or not, the conversation is intriguing. The fact that Maine and Vermont allow it sets a precedent to work with and study. And it’s impact on government really is neither blue, nor red. But the potential to reshape American prisons from the prison cell out carries a lot of weight for you and I both. Just think about the civil stakeholders on the inside, if you would…

by Rory Andes

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