Felony Disenfranchisement and Good-Time Release
Laws barring felons from voting originated from the practice of ‘civil death.’ This law, brought to the United States by the English colonists, was a set of penalties for criminals that included losing the right to vote in any election. Initially, the law only restricted to people whose offenses were considered as an outrageous violation of the moral code. However, following the American Revolution, more states began to expand the penalty to involve all felonies. Currently, forty-eight states do not allow inmates of felony offenses to cast their votes. Thirty-five states bar inmates and offenders on parole from voting, while 31 states also exclude those on probation. Four states bar anyone charged with a felony even after they have served prison time. Regarding numbers, approximately 5.85 million Americans cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement.
The race is an underlying issue in the process because those mostly affected by this law are Blacks. A total of 2.2 million African-Americans cannot vote due to this law. This number translates to about 7.7% of African American adult population disenfranchised compared to 1.9% of the non-Black population. In other words, one in every thirteen Black voters cannot vote compared to one in every fifty-six non-Blacks. With American laws getting, even more, punitive, it is projected that 30% of Blacks in the next generation will at a point in their lifetime lose their right to vote.
Voting rights are one of the core pillars of American democracy. A democracy, as defined by Abraham Lincoln, is “government of the people by the people, for the people.” Felony disenfranchisement is not legitimate. Approximately four million Americans who have served their sentences live with us in our communities yet are denied their right to vote. These elections indicate the will of the people, and grant a government its legitimate mandate to make policies. To make our government more responsive to the needs of its citizens, we have to increase the participation of voters. A strong democracy is one with the broadest base of voters from every sector of the society – minorities involved.
Good Time Release
There are three types of ways in which offenders can be released from prison: after completing their sentence, release on parole and mandatory release (mandatory supervision). Mandatory release occurs when the calendar time and the good conduct time served by an offender are equaled their sentence length. Mandatory release excludes certain violent crimes, is automatic for others as long as they qualify for the program. A good time is a procedure for early release whereby an offender gets an automatic sentence reduction for each day he/she spends without violating any prison rule. Ways of earning a good time release include community service and taking part in educational programs. The U.S. federal law grants inmates fifty-four days of a good time for every year served. However, not all inmates are eligible for good time release – like those serving life imprisonment.
A prisoner earns good time credit that can be used to shorten his/her sentence. Good time credit is given for good behavior and willingness to perform given duties. One can also lose the credit for violation of prison rules of failing to perform given duties. Good-time credit can be used to shorten a sentence, and earn either a conditional or an unconditional early release, depending on the sentence type. If an inmate serving a definite sentence gets good-time credit, prison officials will determine if he/she is eligible for unconditional early release. An inmate serving a determinate/indeterminate sentence cannot use good-time credit to get unconditional early release. Rather, he/she is eligible for conditional release – on parole or under a set of conditions.
Good-time credit is of benefit to the justice system because it facilitates and promotes rehabilitation and averts breaking of prison rules. In addition to maintaining public safety, it also helps to reduce the costs of running correctional facilities controlling prison population. Studies conducted have proven the cost benefits of this program. The Department of Correctional Services, New York, reviewed the good time release program of the state, between 1997 and 2006, and involving twenty-four thousand inmates. The results indicated that the program had saved the state a total of $369 million.
I think prisoners should be able to earn good-time release because it encourages rehabilitation by rewarding good conduct and offering programs that facilitate community reintegration of prisoners. For instance, educational programs allow inmates to develop a legitimate career and earn employment in the same field. In Nevada, ten days good time credit is given every month to any inmate who participates in an education program, and a maximum of 120 days to an inmate who completes a degree. The benefits of this program are also proven. An evaluation of early release programs in Wisconsin indicated that seventeen percent of prisoners granted good-time release, were convicted within the first year of release compared to twenty-eight percent of prisoners served full term sentences.
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