Dueling Column: Felon disenfranchisement should be abolished

Clara Barros/ Staff Writer

As of now, 1.6 million Floridians aren’t allowed to vote. That means one in ten people in the Sunshine State lacks one of the most basic democratic rights.

The reason? A past felony conviction.

Florida is one of four U.S. states that permanently revokes a convicted felons right to vote, and has the highest disenfranchisement rate in the country.

Currently, the ban can only be lifted on an individual basis through a petition of clemency.

In practice, this is nearly impossible.

Governor Scott and his Cabinet hold only four clemency hearings a year, considering less than 100 requests at a time. In total, there are about 20,000 people in line, according to the Miami Herald — and each of them must wait at least five years after probation to request clemency.

This arrangement is unfair because it continues to punish and isolate individuals after they have served their full sentences.

With that in mind, the organization Floridians for Fair Democracy gathered 799,000 signatures to propose a Voting Restoration Amendment.

If approved in November, Amendment 4 will grant normal voting rights to non-violent felons – meaning those who have not physically injured anyone. Sexual assailants and murderers will remain excluded.

Legislation to guarantee democratic rights to felons is positive and necessary.

Still, we must understand that it only scratches the surface of the problems surrounding incarceration. Voting disenfranchisement is actually the tip of a monstrous iceberg: the prison industrial complex.

The Empty Cages Collective describes the PIC as a “mutually reinforcing web of relationships” between “prisons, the probation service, the police, the courts, all the companies that profit from transporting, feeding and exploiting prisoners, and so forth.”

The PIC is all about perpetuating violence.

Prisoners, especially those in private facilities, suffer appalling conditions ranging from an unsanitary environment, overpopulation, neglect of health needs, physical abuse and rape. Coupled with social isolation, these conditions frequently lead to mental illness, self-harm and suicide.

Locking people up is a lucrative business – hence the term “industrial.” Imprisonment generates a demand for companies like the GEO Group, who profit from building and managing detention centers, providing food and healthcare services, etc.

This is why the U.S. alone has one-quarter of the world’s prison population, which, in the last two decades, has increased while the crime rate has decreased.

The majority of private prisons even have minimum occupancy requirements – most of which are met by arresting people for non-violent crimes, such as drug possession.

And that’s not the only way profit is made at the expense of felons.

Prison labor is another huge source of revenue for corporations. Companies like AT&T, Microsoft, IBM and Target employ prison labor for as little as 8 cents a day, when it’s paid at all, according to Afro-American studies professor Heather Ann Thompson.

Without workplace and labor protections, prison labor is often referred to as legalized slavery.

It’s in this context that we must look at felon voting disenfranchisement.

Not as an anomaly, not as an outlier in a democracy, but as an integral piece of a larger exploitative arrangement.

We should support the Voting Restoration Amendment. We should endorse people’s democratic rights.

But we should remember that there’s an entire industry that’s premised on the violation of rights of incarcerated people – premised on putting profit over lives.

That’s the real enemy.

Read the other side: Felon voting rights shouldn’t be automatically restored


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash.

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