Politics / Policy / Thoughts

On Restoring Felon Rights

Wade Murphy discusses “Virginia Governor McAuliffe Restoring Voting Rights to Felons,” Bloomberg.

Unsure how I feel about blanket restoration for all felons, but this move by Gov McAuliffe is certainly a political ploy that allows Hillary Clinton to “get back on the right side” of a criminal justice issue after the disastrous response to the 90s Clinton crime bill and “super-predator” comments.  I find it interesting that Gov McAuliffe restores voting rights to these people, but does not do anything to help them integrate back into society.  Particularly, criminal background checks and employment regulations still bar most of these people from obtaining the full range of economic opportunities available to everyone else.  If he actually cared about rejoining the discussion about this, he would have prompted that discourse politically through the legislature and brought the issue to the citizens rather than imposing a societal shift by executive fiat.

Politics aside, the question of blanket restoration is excellent fodder for a more robust discussion about how we consider the criminal justice system.  If we ostensibly believe in rehabilitation for felons, then fulfillment of sentencing terms and parole accomplish a person’s ability to “pay their debt to society.”  If this debt is paid, why would we not welcome those people back into the full fabric of society?  By not working to expunge incarceration history or felony charges from a person’s background check, we give the lie to the concept of rehabilitation.  If a person commits a felony, even after serving a full sentence and parole with discharge, the title of felon remains legally bound to that person for the remainder of his/her (ves) life.  Legally,we do not consider a felon ever rehabilitated and “ready to rejoin society” as an equal.

Certainly we must re-examine the severity of any crime and the requisite punishment for said crime.  3-strike rules were meant to reduce drug running and dealing in America, but we see a disproportionate amount of convictions to people who have “made bad decisions” in terms of possession.  This does very little to the upper echelons of the illicit drug industry in America – it is the equivalent of jailing the assistants and janitors at Enron and assuming that would somehow cripple Ken Lay’s actions in the C-suite.

But at the end of the day, we should most likely add a higher level of severity over felonies that are ascribed to the most heinous of crimes.   Grand theft and serial murder are both felonies, if I understand the system correctly; and we assume equal incarceration and rehabilitation efforts would work equally well for both types of criminals.  Disenfranchising all people who commit crimes from the remainder of their life from participating in society does not sit well with me from my sense of pro humanitate and respecting the basic human dignity of all people.  However, I would like to see a line drawn at 1st degree murder at the least, so that the criminally sociopathic elements of our society do not influence the governance of our country.

Here is the link for the image.