INMATE VOTING RIGHTS

Opponents of inmate voting argue that inmates should be denied the democratic right to vote as a matter of principle. The Government of Canada, the Premier of Alberta and the leader of the Reform Party, to name a few, have openly expressed opposition to inmate voting rights (Klein vows..., 1997, Manning calls for government..., 1997, Feds take another stab at ending inmates= right to vote, 1997). As the following sections will show, however, denying inmates their democratic voting rights further discriminates against and punishes certain offenders. Granting inmates their right to vote can contribute to their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Responsible Citizenship

Ideally, the goal of incarceration is to rehabilitate individuals so that they may one day rejoin society to become productive, law abiding citizens. The removal of an inmate's right to vote appears to be at odds with the goal of rehabilitation. Offenders should be encouraged to accept more responsibility for their future roles in the community. Voting promotes a sense of belonging and establishes a link between the offender and the community. Giving inmates the right to vote also demonstrates that as a society, we recognize that incarcerated individuals maintain responsibility and will continue to have responsibilities after their release. Furthermore, voting privileges allow inmates to view themselves as participating members of society and not outcasts from it. After all, people are not sentenced to lack of citizenship. Rights that are not by necessity restricted due to the circumstances of imprisonment should not be removed for punitive purposes.

Marginalized Groups

Certain marginalized groups such as the poor and/or Aboriginal are over-represented in Canadian correctional facilities. Aboriginal people are the single most over-represented group in the Canadian correctional system. The Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry found that "25% of Aboriginal persons received sentences of incarceration, compared to 10% of non-Aboriginals" (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994, p. 643). Aboriginal offenders may view the justice system as just another component of the dominant society which excludes and even rejects them. Denying an inmate, especially an Aboriginal inmate, the right to vote can be viewed as a discriminatory practice perpetrated by white, middle-class Canadians.


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