Long ago, New York State abolished its debtors’ prisons. Locking debtors up virtually guaranteed that their debt would remain unpaid. Today the state has the opportunity to do away with another form of outmoded punishment by restoring voting rights to felons who have paid their “debt” to society and are released into community supervision (parole). Because this latter status can last for years, these ex-inmates remain locked out of their ability to act as responsible citizens.
Currently, a bill has been introduced in the NYS Senate (S1931) with a matching Assembly bill (A4987) that would restore voting rights to parolees as has been done by 14 other states. For the past ten years, I have taught in a college program run by Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. In this period hundreds of inmates, having achieved either Associate or Bachelor Degrees from Mercy College, have been released back into the community. They have not only “paid their debt” but also used the opportunity to educate themselves in the field of Behavioral Science, making them ready and willing to participate as productive, tax-paying citizens.
They deserve to have their voting rights restored both to re-integrate them in the body politic and to restore the dignity they should enjoy as free of debt and able to exercise a fundamental right of citizenship.
Paul E. Dinter, Ph.D.