Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Should We Allow Prisoners To Vote?

A few days ago, I wrote a post on what I termed "quiet injustices" -- things that pretty clearly implicate questions of ethics and morality in our society, but yet rarely seem to bother us. My main example was D.C. disenfranchisement. Another is felon disenfranchisement (after their sentences have been served). Neither, I think, is in any remote way justifiable, and neither are particularly salient political issues.

But the more I think about it, the more I question whether even disenfranchising felons while they're in prison is justifiable. So, I've decided to spend some time exploring that issue.

In the field of legal philosophy, there are two primary justificatory models for why we can punish criminals. The first is "utilitarian"; we punish people because it leads to better social outcomes when we do. Deterrence, for example, is a utilitarian consideration, as is preventing the criminal from committing more crimes. The second model is "retributive"; essentially, giving criminals their just deserts. Those who commit crimes deserve to be punished (to varying degrees, depending on the crime). But the flip side of the retributive model is that you can't punish people more (or less) than they deserve, even if society would benefit (from the deterrent aspect, say). Hence, the two models are somewhat in tension with each other. Sometimes, society as a whole would be better off if a criminal was punished more (or less) severely than they "deserve". In such situations, we are forced to pick which model we prefer. Hence, I'll analyze prisoner disenfranchisement under both models, then examine several additional pragmatic considerations outside punishment theory that might advise against allowing prisoners to vote.

I. The Utilitarian Model

The utilitarian position forces us to weigh the benefits of prisoner disenfranchisements against its costs. We'll start with the costs, which should be obvious: denying someone the franchise is an extraordinarily serious breach of normal civic procedures. The harms are aggregated when it is a particular class of individuals (in this case, prisoners) who are so disenfranchised, because whatever interests they have as a class will be erased from our collective deliberations. And prisoners do have several exceedingly important interests that deserve hearing: combating prison rape and prison reform more generally, the availability of reintegration programs for non-lifers, even the simple mechanisms to prevent family dissolution during imprisonment. Moreover, prison disenfranchisement leads to the 0/5 compromise wherein mostly minority prisoners are transferred to White locales, who then gain increased voting power without additional voters. This creates a perverse incentive to deliberately jack up the incarcerated population, particularly via laws which target minority populations, and has the effect of creating unjustifiable asymmetries in political power, privileging White communities over communities of color.

The benefits of punishment in general, in the utilitarian model, are those of deterrence, and pre-empting potential future criminal activity by the imprisoned person. But outside cases where the crime itself is election-related (and in those few cases, I think disenfranchisement is justifiable), neither seems to apply. Allowing prisoners to vote would not give them any more opportunity make it any more likely that they will commit more crimes. Indeed, if anything it may make it less likely: insofar as criminal activity is positively correlated with marginalization from general social practices, integrating people into socially mainstream acts (such as civic participation) should be a bulwark against recidivism. Deterrence, too, to be inapplicable -- I have trouble imagining the prospective criminal for whom prison is not a deterrent, but loss of voting privileges is. Whatever marginal gain (if one exists at all) in deterrent force disenfranchisement offers is more than outweighed by the aforementioned costs.

II. Retributive Model

The retributive model allows for punishment as "just deserts" for criminal activity. This, obviously, is a bit fuzzy: what is "just deserts"? Obviously, we can recognize the poles: death for jaywalking is not just deserts, nor is a fine for murder. But there still remains the "how many grains of sand make a pile" problem. The line at which a punishment becomes too severe or not severe enough is blurry and contested.

However, one thing that can aid us in the present discussion is that we have, by and large, at least a metric for measuring the relative severity of punishments: prison. We can debate which crimes are the worst, and we can debate where each crime should specifically be placed on the spectrum. But we do agree that, abstractly, the worse the crime, the longer you (deserve to) spend in prison. And in the public imagination, that sentence is exhaustive of just deserts. Simply put, I think that the decision on imprisonment length alone is the reflection of what we imagine just deserts to be.

Consider a crime that we all agree should, in our status quo system, be punished by 20 years in jail. Imagine now that we agree that the prisoner should be enfranchised while he's serving his sentence. Do we now think the sentence should be 30 years instead of 20? If we do not believe that (and I don't think most people do), then we're implicitly saying that enfranchisement/disenfranchisement is not part of our internal weighing mechanism for determining just deserts. And if it doesn't meet that threshold, then under the retributive framework it is not a punishment we can legitimately impose on offenders.

Of course, one might take the opposite stance on my hypothetical, and say that both factors (enfranchisement and sentence length) are relevant considerations for measuring just deserts. At that point, the question shifts to whether disenfranchisement is an inherently unjust punishment. For example, if in the previous hypothetical we replaced the variable of "enfranchisement" with the variable "tortured daily", I might agree that we should adjust the sentence length downward to make up for the increased severity of the punishment. But prior to that I'd hold that torture is not a just punishment -- inherently it can never be considered part of just deserts, because it represents a extreme violation of human dignity. The question is whether voter disenfranchisement occupies a like category. I think that there is a solid argument that it does. Voting is an absolutely bedrock, fundamental part of being a person in a democratic citizenry. To be barred from voting is to be rendered a non-person in our political community. Whatever else prisoners are, I think they remain persons and citizens. They are not "men without countries", and they should not be treated as such.

This, I recognize, is more of a judgment call. But particularly since I believe we can affect just deserts via imprisonment alone, without disenfranchisement, I do not believe we have good grounds to add disenfranchisement as a punishment options outside of very special circumstances (where the felon's crime was election related).

III. Pragmatic Considerations

Having dealt with the question at a level of theory, the final issue is whether there are any pragmatic bars that would advise against allowing prisoners to vote. I think a few present themselves, but they do not strike me as sufficient to outweigh the arguments laid out above.

The first potential problem is both the most intuitively obvious (to me, anyway) as well as the most easily dispatched. That is that prisoners, already having demonstrated themselves to have anti-social tendencies, will vote for policies that sanction their sociopathic activities (i.e., all the robbery inmates will get together and vote to legalize robbery). This strikes me as an unfounded fear, in part because I don't actually think most robbery convicts actually believe that robbery should be legal, but primarily because there aren't enough prisoners to accomplish such an end. Prison enfranchisement is important because it allows prisoners to form political alliances with like-minded interest groups who also are concerned with their problems. But while there are voices on the outside who care about the problem of prison rape, there are very few, I'd imagine, which believe we should legalize robbery. The only way this could be circumvented is if prisoners actually became a democratic majority, in which case I'd argue we have bigger problems on our hands. Particularly since I think prisoners should still be considered "residents", for voting purposes, of their hometowns, and not where the prison is located, it strikes me as unlikely that prisoners will ever gain a working democratic majority.

The second potential problem is that of independent agency in a prison environment. Prison is a institution of power and control, both among prisoners, and between the guards and the prisoners. But voting demands the free exercise of one's own autonomous faculties. This creates tension. But I think the tension can be overcome. The biggest risk for intimidation comes where the prisoners are all voting in the same jurisdiction. But where the prisoners are spread out of many jurisdictions (because they hail from different hometowns), the potential for adverse influence dissipates. It doesn't go away entirely (statewide and national elections will see significant overlap in interests), but then again, the potential for voter intimidation always exists anyway. So long as ballots are secret, the risk strikes me as minimal.

The third potential problem is how to organize an election in prison. Prisoners should be given access to news, so they can make informed decisions (I do not think utter isolation from current events is justified by either utilitarian or retributive considerations). And since I envision the prisoners as being registered in their home jurisdictions, rather than residents of whether the prison is located, the election itself would be standard absentee ballot fare.

IV. Choice of Punishment: A Middle Ground

A middle ground option, alluded to early, that exists within the retributive framework would be to give prisoners an option of taking a reduced sentence that includes disenfranchisement, or a lengthened sentence that allows one to vote. But that would entail figuring out an exchange rate between enfranchisement and time-served (how many years of a sentence is the right to vote worth?). Pragmatically, it is simpler to use prison length on its own as a metric of just deserts. Moreover, insofar as a just democratic polity incorporates (to the greatest degree possible) the voices of the entirety of the citizenry, we should promulgate policies that encourage people to vote, and be particularly wary of discouraging voting amongst particular classes or groups of the citizenry. But since I suspect few prisoners would choose voting rights over a reduced sentence, adding voting rights as a punishment consideration would cut against the benefits of inclusion that I've articulated.

V. Conclusion

So in conclusion, I believe that it is difficult to justify disenfranchising prisoners, under normal circumstances, under either a utilitarian or a retributive model of punishment. Furthermore, the pragmatic arguments against prison voting are similarly lacking in merit. Meanwhile, allowing prisoners to vote would benefit society by making it more democratically legitimate, by including pertinent voices on deliberations of great social import, and even by potentially reducing recidivism rates.


Eric said...

This could only have been written by a student, and one that has never had close contact with any felons.

I have an idea, why don't you go and be a corrections officer for a few years, and then ask that question again.

David Schraub said...

I'll freely admit my association with felons is somewhat limited (though not non-existent -- I've met released felons, and I've known people who have committed felonies but not gotten caught). But I do have a friend who has had substantial close contact with incarcerated felons, so I guess I could solicit her input.

That being said, 1) I'm not sure which part of the argument would be impacted by having personal contact with felons, as the argument I made does not really rely on personal experiences, and 2) if we restrict prison policymaking only to those who have had "close contact with any felons", we essentially reduce it to just a) prison employees, b) families of felons, c) certain felon victims [those whose victimization occurred through "close contact"], and d) the felons themselves. This, I'm guessing, would be insufficient to secure democratic legitimacy in the proposed policies -- certainly, it'd likely exclude most of the political class. But then, I'm also guessing you don't really think we should restrict theorizing on this subject strictly to members of those four groups.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there's an additional consideration here, but it's inherently liberal in nature.

The poor make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population, and the vast majority of felons. In addition, non-whites being more likely to be poor, more prisoners and felons are non-white. Thus, by disenfranchising them, an almost class-based metric is used to determine voting rights. If their poverty, and their crime, are a result of middle and upper class institutions, then by stripping them of their right to vote, a type of system is being informally instituted similar to the beginnings of America, where only landowners were allowed to vote.

It then becomes more than just a practical issue, it becomes about equivalent justice and oppression of the poor.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post.

I think there is a reasonable argument made for denying the franchise while imprisoned. Those who chose to commit crimes have made a conscious decision to live outside societal norms by violating the law.

Prison is a way to pay your debt to society. If you release someone from prison, you agree that they have paid their dues and are allowed to return to civil society.

I can agree that there are some crimes that require special consideration, even after the sentence is served. For example, you can convince me that child molesters should be restricted from being around children. You can convince me that a felon who used a firearm in their crime should have their right to bear arms denied.

However, unless you committed voter fraud or something actually related to voting, I cannot, morally, agree with removing the franchise from a group of people who have served their time.

Anonymous said...

An entertaining exercise however prisoners don't even have some inalienable rights:

1. life (capital punishment)
2. liberty (not much of that in prison)
3. pursuit of happiness (I'm pretty sure prison impedes their pursuit of happiness)

Many of a citizen's rights are forfeit, upon becoming a felon, including one's elective rights.

It serves as a deterrent (or at least should) and as a punishment.

Should one be allowed to restore such rights upon serving their prison term? A case could probably be made for felons living a socially acceptable (read: crime free) life for a specified duration, but that wasn't your topic.

If you succeed in your goal of becoming a law professor, do your students a favor and spend time off the campus dealing with the reality of your preferred area of expertise. Otherwise you'll be just another disconnected denizen of the ivory tower.

Anyway, interesting read, but don't forget to come up for air every once in a while.

Anonymous said...

There's really only so much one can learn from being down in the dirt, because at the end of the day this is all theoretical. Until a state actually TRIES this, there will be no precedent, so I think it's legitimate for him to argue this point without having necessarily been incarcerated, been related to a felon, or worked as a prison guard. I'd also point out that there are plenty of darn stupid people who get all the practical experience in the world and don't learn a single thing from it.

Anonymous said...

Nox, where people run into problems is when they don't ground theoretical exercises with practical knowledge (and vice versa)

Jack said...

Anon (Eric?),

I'd really like to hear what insights you have as someone who spends a lot of time around imprisoned felons. So far the arguments you've given in this thread have been entirely theoretical. I'm sure spending time with felons won't make one particularly enthusiastic about how they plan to vote but most of us already feel that way about large portions of the electorate. Actually, I'm inclined to think those who haven't spent time with felons will probably be able to consider their franchise with less prejudice than some prison guard who receives threats from prisoners and witnesses all manner of misbehavior. So please, enlighten us.

David, I think the prospects for meaningful organization or even significant turnout in prisons is pretty dim. Those benefits that are related to political participation will probably be extremely limited. There is also a large potential for a backlash that would work against the interests of the imprisoned. Imagine headlines like "Barak Obama leads overwhelmingly among rapists and drug dealers". And we'd have trouble justifying rehabilitation as something in the public interest that will prevent future crime. Instead, it will be tied to a narrative about pandering to criminals. I think it is very likely that politicians would distance themselves even further from prison reform. I don't know if public ignorance can be used to justify disenfranchisement (and the above argument probably could have been made to justify previous forms of disenfranchisement) but this is worth considering.

Also, the argument for disenfranchisement would probably be justified through some kind of social contract theory.

PG said...

I doubt that released drug dealers and rapists would tell election pollsters about their status unless the pollsters successfully convinced them that this was the government calling. (At which point, fraud! send the pollsters to jail and take away their franchise!)

I recently helped someone study for the LSAT who'd spent 16 years in prison. I can't say that hanging out with him made self-evident why he shouldn't have voted while in prison, nor why he shouldn't vote now. Perhaps those commentators talking about the incapability of academics to understand real life, might actually expound on what "practical knowledge" teaches us about the wisdom of felony disenfranchisement. I'm sure Vermont and Maine would like to know what horrible results will follow from their letting people vote even while in prison, and 45 other states know what's in store for them for letting ex-cons vote.

The argument that criminals' loss of their rights to liberty and the "pursuit of happiness" (I'm not quite sure which part of the Constitution guarantees this, but whatever, that's such an academic concern) while in prison justifies the continued loss of their voting rights while out of prison doesn't make much sense. We constitutionally cannot continue to restrict criminals' liberty and "pursuit of happiness" once they have served their term (including probation) -- this is part of the basic concept of due process. We can limit the ex-cons' liberty only through strong public safety considerations, so that prohibiting felons from owning guns, or child molesters from living near schools, is accepted. (And if the 2nd Amendment folks actually believed their own arguments that the right to bear arms is on par with individual rights such as that to a civil trial or to freedom of speech, religion and association, they'd have to let the felons keep their guns, too.)

If someone could make an argument for why it's unsafe for the polity for felons to vote, the analogy to other rights would make sense. Otherwise, I think we had better stick to the Supreme Court's explanation that the 14th Amendment's saying a state won't lose any representation in the federal government if it takes away the right to vote for "rebellion or other crime" as the best reasoning we have: to wit, that felony disenfranchisement is a policy matter. Pity that there seem to be such crap arguments as to why it's a good policy.

It seems to exist mostly for historical reasons: the original democracies took away the right to vote for criminals as part of those criminals' "civic death" (or what David might call becoming a "nonperson") -- but the criminals also lost the right to liberty and property due to their non-personness. Moreover, those weren't nation-states with anything like universal suffrage, which is the goal toward which the U.S. has been heading.

Andrew said...

As Jack mentioned, the idea of social contracts is indeed important to consider. David, you mentioned the felons not being "men without countries", but indeed if a person on a visa, trying to become a citizen were to commit a crime, he would be deported. The reason is simple - that citizenship and all it entails is indeed a contract with society. Society protects you and provides for you and expects lawfulness in return. As a result, it fits directly into the retributive model - since the felon broke his end of the deal, society reciprocates completely.

On a second note, this post fits in somewhat nicely with a recent discussion I was having about whether, were Bush tried for war crimes, he should (or must) receive the death penalty. Really interesting stuff.

Stentor said...

I'm a utilitarian through and through on the question of punishment theory, but I think you're doing a disservice to the retributivist position. Specifically, I would question your assumption that retributivism entails the ability to collapse everything into a single (quasi-Benthamite!) metric of deservingness, such that any level of desert can be matched to a length of jail time. A retributivist might well say, in the spirit of "the punishment should fit the crime," that a given violation deserves both a loss of physical freedom (via X years in jail) and a loss of ability to choose one's government -- and because those losses are qualitatively different and address qualitatively different aspects of the criminal's desert, more of one can't be substituted for less of the other. You seem to acknowledge this in the very narrow case of disenfranchising people who violate election laws, but it would take additional argument to show that it must be so narrowly limited.

But it would have to be done in a more sophisticated way than this:

I think there is a reasonable argument made for denying the franchise while imprisoned. Those who chose to commit crimes have made a conscious decision to live outside societal norms by violating the law.

This kind of contractarianism justifies way too much. By this reasoning, torturing people for parking tickets is justified -- after all, parking in the wrong place is a conscious decision to live outside societal norms, and hence would be grounds for having other societal norms, such as the prohibition on torture, taken away from you.

Anonymous said...

All this is well and good, arguments for disenfranchising felons, except people fail to see the inevitable logic jump from that position. one of the fundamental principals of the currently accepted argument for the morality of democracy is that it is built from the ground up, and some specific group does not get to choose who gets to vote or not, as long as they are citizens. by saying that somehow certain citizens (the important word, because as has been noted, felons do not lose citizenship) are less qualified than others to vote, and thus should be stripped of their voting rights, you allow for all sorts of arguments for selective voting rights. by the merit that if felons should not be allowed to vote because they make bad citizens, then shouldn't we disenfranchise everyone who doesn't have the time to pay any attention to politics? and who has no education to understand the issues?

The problem is that true democracy is founded on the complete universality of enfranchisement for all of its citizens. once you start allowing for certain groups to dictate who can and can't vote, you're limiting it to less than an actual democracy, and in many ways it becomes similar to the systems in Europe where the king was elected by certain nobles, instead of by consanguinity. It was in some ways republican, but by no means a republic. by what standard to we determine which citizens do and don't deserve enfranchisement? what if our system for the past 300 years has been declaring felons people who don't deserve to be felons? in this way i really don't think it IS possible to use a contractarian argument for disenfranchisement. when i stated my "liberal" argument above, it was a liberal contractarian argument. in a truly contractual society there is no authority high enough to deem one citizen less worthy than another of his rights, even after certain actions. (i'd also like to point out that there are definitely many felons who are falsely convicted, as DNA has proven over the years, so by what value can you say that a trial verdict, determine and overseen by humans, is a worthy standard by which to strip a person of their rights? [This is also my primary argument against execution: would you trust your fellow man to ONLY execute guilty people, FOREVER, PERFECTLY?])

even if disenfranchisement is somehow just (which i argued above that it cannot be, in a true democracy), i think there is certainly an argument to be made that we apply it to far too many crimes.

i don't think either that it could ever be used properly as retribution against felony. i find that argument a little strange, since it somehow assumed a numeric total for all forms of crime and punishment, and is thus strangely utilitarian, yet is based on retribution. in this way i don't actually agree that we can just calculate a number of years per crime, for jail time. there has to be many kinds of punishments, since their are many kinds of crimes with many kinds of values (thus, we fine for some crimes, etc.). now one can still argue that disenfranchisement should be among the options, but ultimately i don't think it is equivalent for the kind of crimes felons commit. i mean, one possible punishment for treason should be disenfranchisement, but we can already strip traitors of their citizenship. if a man is not worthy of being represented in government, how can we still consider him helpful enough to remain part of the community? shouldn't we then just expel all felons from the country?

as stated in the essay, it provides no deterrent (the death penalty is more extreme, and even it has been proven to have no effect on crime rates), if the criminal is indeed reformed afterwards then disenfranchising him is denying the community of valuable input, and it is no way a true retribution for crimes like murder. honestly the only arguments for it are entirely emotional. we don't LIKE felons, and so we enjoy doing whatever we like to them. we ignore important issues, like the relation of poverty to felony, because we are morally excused as non-felons. i also don't believe that a social contract justifies it, and if anything, vindicates the enfranchisement view.

now, perhaps a compromise can be had, by which felons lose enfranchisement only while incarcerated, but that is debatable. practically, i'd be willing to accept that as law, because it is probably as close to full enfranchisement as anyone will get for felons.

Anonymous said...

You mean to say desserts. Deserts are the ones with sand.

David Schraub said...

No, I mean deserts. I googled.

D. Horn said...

1) Noxheart - you're on to it. there is a disproportionate amount of minorities in prison, however nearly all people in prison are from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. this is a class issue, clearly.

2) the old guard of academic research has failed democratic rights. the elite academics rely too heavily on their old research, we need new leaders in academia


3) anyone interested in doing a research project into disenfranchisement (cross national) let me know. horn_daniel at hotmail dot com

serious researchers please

Anonymous said...

Christal Wood, J.D., serious researcher, with friends in low places, and a law degree.

In Washington State, it is already law that one may petition to get their voting rights back after serving all time, and paying back all fines. But this still negatively impacts the poorer versus richer former felon. Most folks I've talked to in this position don't know they have the right, and are dissuaded by the red tape, and the system as a whole.

One must understand that felonies encompass a wide range of behaviors from non-violent and essentially benign (possessing MaryJane or registering to vote incorrectly) to the most heinous, but the latter is actually the smaller percentage. One of the few ways that the average citizen may even have a say in what the laws are is the vote. But the worry that a bunch of murderers are going to vote some corrupt people into office, and all Hell will break loose needn't worry. That's already the case.

What is it about "paid their debt to society" do people refuse to understand? Looking at the data, it sounds pretty racist and classist to me. -cw

Jack said...

I've always thought desserts should be spelled deserts. I like thinking of my ice cream sundae as a just and proportional reward for the preceding meal.

kat said...

Excellent. Bookmarked!

Anonymous said...

My concern, is that a focus on voting rights of those persons presently in prison will deflect attention away from the situation of those who have been released but are still being denied their right to vote.
There are indeed, large issues that apply to both - such as incarceration that is disproportionate by race, poverty, education, neighborhood. But gains in social injustices must begin somewhere, even with small steps.
In my youth, the first small steps were those of young black children being escorted to school by Federal Marshalls. The (quasi)philosophical debate was that since Negroes were something less than first-class citizens they had no "right" to expect equal schooling. It took direct action to Get On With It, even whlie some were still defending the status quo ideas.
Today, we can work for restoring voting rights upon release. Then, we can take on the battles of counting the prisoners as members of their home districts, and retaining voting privileges for prisoners.
With the Pew Report stating that now 1 in 10 of us are prisoners, we need to bridge the thinking that separates Us from Them.
Let's think of some way to get over the chasm between We (who are making the rules) and Them (who are the violators), and some way to include all classes, social status etc.
And let's Get Real by thinking of a common crime we all know someone for whom the shoe fits.
So instead of thinking about robbery or rape, let's take the crime of adultery. (Actually, I'm not really sure whether it IS still a crime, but in my youth I sure got that impression.)
Do you see any correlative reason why someone who committed adultery would automatically become someone who should lose the right to vote? S/he did, of course, choose to break the social contract, and thereby must deserve to be kept outside of responsible decision-making. And, of course, society (supposedly) would benefit by having all opinions of adulterers disallowed, lest they skew the results of "responsible" voters. That should raise the "purity-quotient" of elections, even though it might severely impact the voter turnout, if proof of innocence were required.
So, on to the deterrent factor. Do you think very many persons contemplating commiting adultery would think, "Oh, I might lose the right to vote if I do this, so I'll just stop now"? Well, hurrumph, if they don't, that's their tough luck! They certainly should have thought of that ahead of time.
Then there is the retributive argument. How much punishment is enough? Can a person who will be deprived of all normal sexual experience for some number of years in the future really "learn his lesson", any more by also having his vote taken away from him?
My contention is that instead of debating issues such as "social contract" and "retributive punishment" the focus should be on the "Desired Outcome".
Policy should be made by carefully defining first the problem, and then the desired outcome. Any suggested interventions need to be carefully analyzed to make sure that the proposed solution actually solves the problem identified.
In matters of criminal justice, the desired outcome is to have safe communities for its citizens. We have doggedly overused one solution, incarceration, even though it has failed miserably to produce the desired outcome of safe communities.
Our response has been to decide that this same failed solution must need to be used on more and more persons for longer and longer periods of time.
We use up more and more of our state budget resources building prisons instead of schools, but we fail to get our desired outcome. Prisons simply don't turn out persons with the skills and attitudes needed to be productive in the community.
I maintain that instead of debating the justifications for the failed solution, (like expecting retribution to teach appropriate social skills), we need to implement the well-researched alternatives to incarceration that already exist.
Washington State has such a report, produced by their public policy institute, but we're stuck on the old, failed course of building ever more prisons, even though the report said that is the most expensive, least effective alternative to use.
Maybe there should be a Debate Link on "Why Should we Allow States to Build More Prisons When the Ones They Have are Breaking Us All?"

D. Horn said...

“If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal” – Emma Goldman

Research by Lipset and Marks’ investigations into the failure of socialism in the United States indicate at least a historical presence of class identification of felons in early 20th century America: “a presidential straw vote taken in prison revealed that many convicts were in prison for what they considered offenses against their class enemies and a disproportionate amount of convicts were socialists” [ Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2000. 379 pp.ISBN: 0-393-04098-4.]

i reiterate the call for some 'new' ways of looking at the prison problem in america, as a war against the lower classes via political disenfranchisement by the state of groups increasingly trapped in the poverty-crime trap.
leading to the poverty-crime-disnfranchisement-poverty cycle (Horn, 2007)