Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Vote Essay


Hancourt (2014) states that the refusal of the right to vote for criminals who are imprisoned is disapproving and preventing vital rehabilitation. There are many voters who believe that prisoners who are found guilty of crimes and imprisonment do not have voting rights and thus they must be punished, removed voting rights, serve their time and suffer. The fact of the matter is that a prisoner is behind bars because they committed a crime and are therefore dangerous to society. From rapists to killers to thieves, and similar, these prisons keep them all in a monitored environment, ensuring safety for other citizens.

On April 22, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a sweeping executive order that changed the lives of 200,000 ex-felons in Virginia, instantly restoring their right to vote. This order leaves only Kentucky, Florida and Iowa with blanket lifetime disenfranchisement policies for ex-felons. In these three states, no citizens convicted of a felony are allowed to vote, regardless of the crime committed, absent government-granted exceptions to the policy (Brettschneider, 2014).

Shapiro (2017) states a view held by many by stating that letting prisoners vote is devaluing the country. He adds that denying a prisoner a chance to vote is not necessarily 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.

However, many people think prison should be about rehabilitation; a place to create opportunities for healing and personal transformation otherwise absent in the often highly dysfunctional and damaged lives of many prisoners (Brettschneider, 2018). 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. Brettschneider also adds that voting can be more important if one loses his/her freedom because it is imperative to reintegrate people and see themselves as citizens, even if they’re in prison.

Not allowing prisoners to vote also creates kind of caste system, one that’s eerily similar to a dark chapter in America’s past. The vast majority of states prisoners cannot vote, yet they’re often counted in the population for the legislative district of their prison, the main factor that determines a state’s number of representatives and its presidential electoral votes (Phillips and Deckard, 2016). It’s a practice the NAACP calls “prison-based gerrymandering.” If that sounds familiar, it should: Such a policy resembles the Constitution’s notorious three-fifths clause, which denied slaves the right to vote but counted them in the Census for the purposes of amassing more pro-slavery representatives.

A prisoner’s rehabilitation as a safe, responsible and productive member of society must include the most basic right of the democratic process, the right to choose who governs us. To remove this right dehumanizes prisoners. Our streets are rife with blue and white collar criminals, convicted, on bail or simply waiting for the fateful tap on the shoulder. Currently, if individuals are convicted of a crime but not given a custodial sentence they are still allowed to vote; Bonneau (2014) asks the question why should they be treated differently from convicted criminals who are locked up?

Perhaps if voting rights were given to US prisoners, politicians would take the rights, needs, and interests of inmates more seriously (Shapiro, 2017). They would need to canvas inside prisons for votes and listen to the voices of the wide range of citizens we have behind bars. Part of this canvassing could involve a genuine focus on the long-term rehabilitation of the individual. This, in turn, could lead to reduced reoffending rates and maybe, just maybe, a society with fewer criminals and fewer prisoners.

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, Bonneau (2014) states that 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.

Robbins (2006) states that If people really want convicted felons to re-engage with society, become transformed, and feel like part of a broader community, the citizens 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, then they should be allowed to cast their ballot in an election (Brettschneider, 2017). Instead of denying them the right to vote, Bonneau (2014) states that policymakers should discuss what the purpose of a prison is, what should be done 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 (Phillips and Deckard, 2016).

Bonneau (2014) states that the focus shouldn’t be about voting for top offices, but prison inmates should be allowed to vote in grass root elections as well. If the relationship between prisoners and local government is encouraged, prisoners are likely to pay more attention to issues of resettlement and employment.

To some, the idea may seem risky, unnecessary or even unconscionable. But in fact, there are good reasons to embrace it. For one, our constitutional ideals support the right of prisoners to vote and denying it violates the concept of self-government that the founders cherished. Granting this right also makes sense for the country in terms of politics and policy. As prisons have grappled with the explosion in their populations in the past 20 years, allegations of prisoner maltreatment multiply, and criminal justice reform moves to the fore of our political debate, we should consider that one of the best ways to solve these intractable and expensive problems would be to listen to those currently incarcerated, and to allow them to represent themselves in our national political conversation (Phillips and Deckard, 2016).

In the United States, the debate about prison voting rights is virtually nonexistent. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow the practice. If anything, the movement has gone backward: Massachusetts and Utah both revoked this right in the past two decades. In Massachusetts, this occurred via state referendum after some state inmates organized a political action committee, setting off a harsh rebuke from the state’s governor, who stated, “Criminals behind bars have no business deciding who should govern the law-abiding citizens of the Commonwealth” (Brettschnider, 2018).



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.




Annotated Bibliography

Phillips, A.J. and Deckard, N., 2016. Felon disenfranchisement laws and the feedback loop of political exclusion: The case of Florida. Journal of African American Studies20(1), pp.1-18.

Pam Bondi is discussed in this study as a republican who is currently serving as the attorney general in Florida since her electoral victory in 2010. She believes that crime commited must lead to consequences on the criminal that mean the denial of certain civil liberties such as voting.


Harcourt, B.E., 2014. The invisibility of the prison in democratic theory: A problem of “virtual democracy”. The Good Society23(1), pp.6-16.

The thesis the political background of Eric holder as a democrat attorney general who served as an attorney general between 2009 and 2015. Eric Holder was quoted in the thesis as saying it was within the rights of prisoners to be allowed to vote.

Shapiro, A., 2017. A Pragmatic Approach to Challenging Felon Disenfranchisement Laws. Advance11, p.121.

Shapiro discusses article 10, section 11 which states that every US citizen shall not be denied his or her right to vote. This thesis discussed the pro and cons of prison disenfranchisement. It challenges public perception of the subject by analyzing the reasons for each view and how they benefit the country.


Bonneau, A.N., 2014. A Comparative Study of Prisoner Disenfranchisement in Western Democracies.

Prisoner voting rights exist at a rare intersection between suffrage and penal laws. Both of these spheres make some implicit argument on the notion of inclusion; suffrage establishes who is worthy of helping to create the law, and penal policy determines what happens to individuals who break the law. This study traced how these two forms of inclusion interact with one another and conclude with a more nuanced understanding of democracy and participation.


Brettschneider, C., 2018.

Brettschneider discusses his view that prison inmates should be allowed to vote despite their past transgressions. He cites that prisons are predominantly being seen as places of rehabilitation rather than a place of punishment. Therefore, they can also contribute to the policy decision making of the country, especially prison reform.


Robins, G., The Rights of Prisoners to Vote: A Review of Prison Disenfranchisement in New Zealand’(2006). New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law4, pp.165-at.

This article considered the arguments for and against prisoner disenfranchisement. Part II addresses the histories of prisoner disenfranchisement and universal suffrage, and Part III examines the only New Zealand case on prisoner disenfranchisement

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