In a watershed moment for the debate over whether convicted felons should be allowed to vote, the American Correctional Association has issued a welcome statement calling on states to end the practice of withholding voting rights from parolees and people who have completed their prison terms. Noting that society expects people to become responsible members of society once they are released from prison, the organization, which represents corrections officials, also called on states to cut through the confusing thicket of disenfranchisement laws by explaining clearly to inmates how they get their rights back after completing their sentences.
Some five million Americans are barred from the polls by a bewildering patchwork of state laws that strip convicted felons of the right to vote, often temporarily, but sometimes for life. These laws serve no correctional purpose - and may actually contribute to recidivism by keeping ex-offenders and their families disengaged from the civic mainstream. This notion is clearly supported by data showing that former offenders who vote are less likely to return to jail. This lesson has long since been absorbed by democracies abroad, some valuing the franchise so much that they take ballot boxes right to the prisons.
Several states are now reconsidering laws barring convicted felons from voting. In Maryland, for instance, the legislature is considering a bill that would eliminate a lifetime ban that remains in place for some offenders. The Maryland bill should pass. And other states should follow suit
© 2005 New York Times, Co.