No, they are not part of society
There is really no polite way to say this so here’s the thing; they are put behind bars because they have committed a crime and therefore are dangerous to society. From rapists to murderers to thieves and the like, these prisons keep them all and in the process, make the country safer to live in. When you break the law, you have no business enjoying the rights that would otherwise have been at your disposal had the crime not been committed.
Anyone that breaks the law doesn’t have the country’s best interests at heart. So how can such people be allowed to vote?
Yes, people do change, and usually when someone shows an improvement in their behaviour, their sentence is sometimes reduced, of course depending on the crime they committed. If the state believes someone has reformed to the level that they can be trusted to live with others again, they are let out of prison. And then the person can have their rights again.
I am not advocating for an inhumane criminal justice system but they are locked up because of poor decisions that led to chaotic actions. They got themselves into that mess so they should get themselves and behave well to serve a lighter sentence.
I completely agree that prisoners need to be educated because when they finally get out, they can be beneficial to society instead of being idle and disorderly.
Letting prisoners vote is devaluing the country. It is funny to say that denying a prisoner a chance to vote is a violation of human rights. Although some prisoners are not necessarily evil, when behind bars, they are not part of the citizens that can demand full rights.
We simply shouldn’t tamper with our judicial system. As I’ve already argued, prisons need to reform and rehabilitate their inmates to truly cut crime.
People need to understand that there are consequences to committing a crime. It does not go away unpunished. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. And when you are doing time, do not expect your rights to be considered because when the crime was being committed, the one responsible didn’t consider anything.
This is not something we should look deep into; this is not something that will keep you up at night. Prisons are for separation and rehabilitation, not pampering them with rights.
Finally, the government of Rwanda is already doing too much for prisoners above and beyond their rights. I think they should first absorb that great treatment before we even think of giving them more.
Yes, they can still play their civic duty
The issue of whether prisoners should be allowed certain civil liberties is highly contentious because of the intricacies of the law punishing the offense committed; although prisoners have been lucky to access certain liberties like right to education, exercise and entertainment materials such as radio, CD players, cassette recorders and television, some of these rights are subject to the situation in the prison.
Prisoners are not allowed to vote in any election given the fact that they lose their freedom once they are convicted. But, I believe they should be given a right to vote since voting is a right, not a privilege, and actually I think it’s a responsibility. I would agree that prisoners wouldn’t put it at the top of the list of things they want but maybe that’s because it is not given to them.
It’s the same way you would find that voting is not on top of the list of the first 50 people on the street you come across. It’s still an important civic responsibility. In other ways, voting can be more important if you lose your freedom, because we want to reintegrate people, we want them to see themselves as citizens, even if they’re in prison.
People might argue that allowing them to vote can be expensive and unrealistic but it is unjustifiable since they are not in prison because the system wants to cut costs. Similarly, the fact that prisoners lose many freedoms does not imply they should lose all their civil rights.
Denying them the right to vote is likely to undermine the respect for the rule of law. Allowing prisoners the right to vote, however, may strengthen their social ties and dedication to the common good; thereby encouraging legally responsible involvement in the civil society.
If we really want convicted felons to re-engage with society, become transformed, and feel like part of a broader community, we should do everything possible to re-integrate these individuals into ordinary society. In terms of being a just society, it is not fair if some people have to give up their voting rights just because we think they can’t be useful. If we can use them in other nation building activities, why not allow them to vote?
Instead of denying them the right to vote, we should discuss about what prison is for, what we do with long-term prisoners, and issues about self-injury, inactivity, violence and expense. Prisoners are more likely to be aware of the dangers of such issues and how much they cost society if they are allowed to vote.
And it shouldn’t be about voting for top offices, they should be allowed to vote in grass root elections as well. If we encourage the relationship between prisoners and local government, prisoners are likely to pay more attention to issues of resettlement and employment.