A famous, modern aphorism is America is a Democracy. But many men and women living in America do not contribute to this process. Consider disenfranchisement — losing your right to vote. To me, it shatters people's sense of identity as Americans.
Many people are disenfranchised by varying degrees — Felons are disenfranchised, though for how long varies from state to state. Minorities, people who have ideas that challenge the current incumbent power, are often challenged on their rights to vote, whether that be through intimidation, threats of violence, or even systematic trappings designed to disenfranchise people.
People who are discouraged to participate in politics or simply can’t vote are being disenfranchised. And this discourages people from participating in Democracy, which is part of our unique American identity. This status, for people who do not participate in politics is almost like living in America without citizenship; those disenfranchised are not voting and hence they are pushed to pursue identity that will allow them to enact change elsewhere.
I think the disenfranchisement of felons serves to remove American citizens from being able to actualize and normalize change. If a numerous group of Americans can be disenfranchised, then it supports the incumbent’s power and ability to stay in charge and alienate the fundamental American idea of change.
Twenty states already re-enfranchise prisoners immediately after their release. Mississippi is one of eight states who do not re-enfranchise inmates after their sentence is served, except in special circumstances. Virginia is the only state who will not even consider re-enfranchising inmates after serving their years spent in prison.
Most European states have restored suffrage to their ex-convicts following the 2005 court case Hirst Vs. the United Kingdom which ruled that automatic disenfranchisement was against human rights. If prison is supposed to rehabilitate our citizens then why not allow them to express the changes they would like to see in their communities, as their reformed selves.
The flow and exchange of our ideas is what makes democracy limitless. It allows for the most freedom and the ability to try things out and change them back if they do not work. Change is not something that should be feared.
And I think that change is also necessary if we want prison reform to work. We have to believe that people can be changed, reformed by prison in their ideas. If they leave prison and face discrimination, disrespect, alienation, and on top of that the destruction of their American identity, then how will they ever not feel like a criminal. If they are not allowed to be citizens and practice their reformed selves, how will they ever see themselves as something besides a felon. This is something I learned in a criminal justice class called Master Status.
Master Status is where people cannot break down the psychological barriers that keep them in the mindset of a criminal. Master status is the last step in the process, where a person feels they literally cannot escape the status of being a criminal because of their perceptions of themselves and others perceptions of ex-convicts, felons, and ex-prisoners at large.
With the in coming flux of politicians and outside businesses claiming that Mississippi needs a medical marijuana program and medical marijuana business, Mississippi should consider re-enfranchising the Americans who are serving sentences for the sale or possession of marijuana, who were sentenced when the laws were much harsher than they are now, hence the prisoners serving felony sentences for crimes like possession of marijuana under a certain amount that is currently less than a misdemeanor charge.
Relatively speaking, marijuana is already legal. CBD, or marijuana with less than a .03% THC content that can be bought in gas stations would have been considered a felony offence in the 1960s. considering it is the same drug that is being sold now legally in convenient stores, perhaps the people who are serving time in prison for these crimes should be let out, and the people whose right to vote has been taken away be restored immediately.
Christo Hicks is a staff writer for the Northside Sun.