As an anarchist my enthusiasm around voting is very low.
However, my partner and the father of the baby I am about to have is a felon, and the ways that our shitty society treats felons really piss me off. He has been out for 5 years, off probation/parole, works so hard to take care of me and our animals, fought an uphill battle for custody rights to his first child, pays child support and old residual court fines on time, and is doing everything he can to make positive progress. So for me, this issue is personal. I am insulted on behalf of my partner every time felons are treated poorly.
Every job application that refuses felons enrages me. I saw one for Agriberry recently, that stated they would not hire felons to pick berries. What negative impact a felony conviction would have on one’s ability to pick strawberries is I really couldn’t say. Even using my imagination I struggled with that one. The point being, restrictions and judgements placed on people with felony records are often irrational and insulting. Yes, a convicted pedophile should not get to work at a daycare, but beyond clear associations with the nature of the work, prejudices against felons are wrong.
I don’t really think the right to vote itself holds much hope for making a better society, but I do think returning it to felons would be a symbol of respecting felons as full humans. It is degrading, discouraging, and angering that the Virginia Supreme Court just ruled against McCauliffe’s executive order restoration of rights to felons.
What the fuck IS a right, if it can be taken away anyways?!?! That sounds like a privilege to me. Inalienable rights should be firm, regardless of criminal background.
Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia are the only states which take away the voting rights from felons in this way. Growing up in Virginia, I didn’t realize that this injustice was not the norm. Knowing now that in most places felons are given rights back makes this injustice loom larger.
I think the fact that rights are taken away from felons in the first place is wrong. Without the voices of people who are incarcerated, and who have been incarcerated, our society truly does not make informed choices around incarceration, the prison industrial complex, and criminal “justice” policies. Instead the voices that are the loudest are those from lobbyists of private companies who make tons of money from the construction, supply, and running of prisons. And without listening to felons, we fail to have developed a system that actually rehabilitates people. Recidivism rates are high, and the nature of incarceration is incredibly traumatic.
Virginia makes it incredibly difficult for felons to get back on their feet, and folks who get there deserve tons of respect. People who struggle and still do not succeed also deserve respect. Treating people like crap has a profound pyschological effect on them. If you run a business, hire felons for gods sake. They are just humans who couldn’t afford a fancy lawyer half the time. In your life, respect humans regardless of their criminal background. People in positions of power are needed to step up and use that power for justice instead of for perpetuating systems of inequality.
Recidivism happens because we do not make appropriate space to accept people and engage them in positive ways. Recidivism happens because prisons do not offer adequate mental, physical, emotional or educational care. We have a tiered society, with race, class, gender and felon status all at different levels of society. Felons are near the bottom. Succeeding in life from the bottom, is not easy, and everything that is done to keep felons down increases the odds of recidivism. According to the National Institute of Justics, the rate of recidivism over 5 years since release from prison is 76.6%. Those are some major odds to beat, and have a beat down sense of self esteem because society at large does not even let you vote does not help.
Challenging the restoration of voting rights was a cowardly move by Republicans. Not that I generally endorse Democrats any more, but continuing to deny people their voting rights is a super dick move.
The governor better get on top of signing all those restoration of rights papers individually today, it is well past time for felons to be given due respect. Changes in how we treat felons need to go beyond voting rights and extend into a total overhaul of the criminal justice system, but that is a topic for another day.
This has been a Saturday morning rant by Mo.