By Michael Harris 

Published Feb. 29, 2012 

(VOD editor: This article is very timely considering the ongoing debate among presidential candidates over ex-offenders’ right to vote. In Michigan and some other states, ex-felons DO have the right to vote, but Mitt Romney and others have made it appear that is not the case.

In other parts of the world, voting ights for prisoners are viewed ifferently. The European Court for Human Rights recently overruled Britain’s blanket ban on prisoners’ right to vote. (For details, click on http://echrblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/voting-rights-for-detaines-reform.html. the website for the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.) 

Prisoners in China voting

The U.S. is one of the few countries that incarcerates people for life without parole, and the ONLY country that sentences juveniles to die in prison. Certainly, during these lifetime terms, prisoners should be enfranchised. Over 2.5 million men and women are incarcerated in the U.S., many unjustly. The participation of these millions, who know this system from inside the belly of the beast, would drastically change the landscape of elections in favor of poor and working people, Black, Latino, and of all races. Additionally, they could be COUNTED ON TO TURN OUT TO VOTE!) 

KINCHELOE, MI – I, on behalf of the local chapter of the National Lifers of America, Inc. at Kinross Correctional Facility, would like to share proposals with you that I have submitted to our executive board at Kinross. Our local National Lifers of America Executive Board has endorsed a proposal which I sponsor, for Michigan prisoner voting rights. 

We believe that it is long overdue for Michigan prisoners to obtain voting rights. Under Art. II Sec. 2 of the Michigan Constitution, and MCL 168.758b, Michigan inmates cannot vote in state or federal elections. We believe that those laws should be changed in favor of Michigan inmate voting rights. 

Michigan inmates are forced to pay sales taxes and medical fees, as well as “surcharges” on various consumer products. The Michigan Department of Corrections has been benefiting from those taxes and surcharges coming from Michigan inmate accounts. Those funds have been used for government projects, like building Michigan State Police offices, buying law enforcement tools to help officials locate cellular phones in Michigan’s prisons, and taser guns.

Michigan inmates pay for health care visists, surcharges on commissary items (commissary food items), catalog orders, and inmate phone services, which is one of the government’s biggest tax revenues for the Michigan Department of Corrections. 

Thirty percent of Michigan's budget is spent on prisons

We believe that if Michigan is going to have Michigan inmates pay taxes like first class citizens, then we should be able to vote like first class citizens. We believe that we can also make a difference on issues like adequate affordable health care, reduction in spending in the Michigan Department of Corrections, judicial reform, corrections reform, and support for economic growth in Michigan. We also would like to see Michigan with a new public corruption law that would “get tough” on public officials who violate the public trust. 

We would like to introduce our legislative proposal to the Michigan legislature, to have it voted on before the November, 2012 general elections, or have it on the state ballot for the November, 2012 general elections. But as it stands, we believe that it is hypocritical for Michigan government to make inmates pay taxes and surcharges, but not allow them to vote. 

We know that we face opposition. Because politicians and judges, as well as prosecutors, like to use that “get tough on crime” issue to win elections. We believe that if Michigan prisoners have voting rights, politicians would have to address corrections reforms. More spending in schools instead of prisons, and making sure that all inmates are computer literate, and skilled, which will help reduce crime.

The Michigan Department of Corrections has become a business, and it wants to keep the prisons full for two reasons: (1) to make money off Michigan inmates through taxes and surcharges, so that government budgets will continue to obtain financial relief. (2) to create government jobs, and wrongfully make it appear that the economy is back on track. 

We would like to see term limits for federal judges. Not even the President of the United States has a life-time job. We would like to see the Governor of Michigan sign an executive order, or the legislature create a new law, that would appoint a state cold case division of the Michigan Attorney General’s office, that would examine all claims of false imprisonment, regarding inmates whose cases have long been closed. We would like to see more commutation of sentences for inmates who have been rehabilitated, but are serving life sentences, and long indeterminate sentences. We would also like to see a cap on juvenile sentences for youth who were tried as adults for capital offenses. 

We would like to see amendments to state and federal post-conviction laws, which procedurally bar claims that are untimely, by those claiming actual innocence. 

We would like to have a say on what leaders are elected, and what leaders have control over our lives. If Michigan is going to insist that we pay taxes and surcharges, then Michigan should let us vote.


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  1. Dear Misters Harris and Parker, congrats on your insightful article and initiative. I am copying the leadership of our Lifelong-CURE hapter and Kay Perry, the dedicated and longtime leader of Michigan-CURE, Charlie and Pauline

  2. Dear Misters Harris and Parker, congrats on your insightful article and initiative. I am copying the leadership of our Lifelong-CURE chapter and Kay Perry, the dedicated and longtime leader of Michigan-CURE, Charlie and Pauline

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