The Endless Debt

That our so-called criminal justice system is broken should be self-evident. This fact is embarrassingly obvious if you are not white. Somewhat less so, but still undeniable, if you are poor. If you are both, you probably have, or intimately know someone, who has experienced this harsh reality first hand. Few aspects of the system highlight this like the deliberate, often permanent, disenfranchisement, of felons.

Crime, it is presumed in, well, every society ever, should be met with punishment. Rehabilitation is, at best, paid lip service, by all but a very few nations. If you have broken the law, you must pay a price. This price seldom involves making right, to the best of your ability and however the circumstances allow, what you have made wrong. No, our system is designed to make you feel pain. The pain will not make you a better person, rates of recidivism show that, but boy doesn’t it make the rest of us feel better? I mean, not necessarily the victims, but the rest of us feel satisfied.

So we cart them off to prison, which is bad enough. We take away one of their rights according to our laws, the right to bear arms, which makes sense, especially for violent offenders. Then we go one further, we take away their franchise. We make sure that at the very least while they are prisoners they cannot vote. Some states take this right away through a felons parole. Some take it away for the rest of their lives. Think about that.

There are states in this union that take away, forever, one of the most basic pieces of just being an American. They are saying, regardless of what the felony is, you do not ever deserve to have a voice in our democracy again. This despite the fact that so much of your life after will depend on that democracy, in work release programs, in parole appointments, in laws that already decide where you live and how much you have to sacrifice your privacy. You can lose your right to vote, forever, if you egg a wealthy enough person’s house.

To my way of thinking you should not lose your right to vote, even when incarcerated. You certainly should not lose it forever. Then again, in a society in which the poor in general, and black men in particular are over represented in the felon population it is no surprise. In a nation that makes it far to easy to be convicted of a felony if you are powerless, it is no surprise that they want to take away every last ounce of your power. Why, if someone knows what goes on in prisons, they may vote to fix it. We cannot have that now, can we? Not when it might cut into the profits of our increasingly private run corrections facilities.

I am glad that our President and Attorney General are visiting this issue. I am sure there will be cynics who will accuse them of trying to increase the rolls of Democratic voters. To those people I would ask why that would  happen? Could it be one party more than another has bent over backward to steal lives, to deny franchise to large swaths of people. Could it be afraid that there may be a backlash? I think that is part of it. I think a great many white men are afraid that their privilege is coming to an end, and they will do anything to keep that from happening. So they want to make sure that our felons, mostly poor, and mostly black, are saddled with an unpayable debt. Make sure they can never be full members of our society, otherwise, the protection privilege affords them may come to an end. Never mind that giving it up will make for a safer society for everyone.


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