Joseph Jackson was among the millions of Americans who were motivated by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He managed voter registration operations in the nation’s whitest state and cast his first-ever vote for the candidate who would become the nation’s first African-American president.
And he accomplished it all while serving 19 years in a maximum-security jail for manslaughter.
Jackson, 52, was convicted in Maine, one of only two states that let convicts to vote from prison. In the United States, nearly all convicted felons are disenfranchised during their jail terms and, frequently, for years after their release. Occasionally, criminals lose their voting rights for life.
Other states are reevaluating the legislation that prevented 6.1 million Americans from casting ballots in 2016. This is in response to the growing impact of felony disenfranchisement laws and the exponential rise in incarceration rates. Florida activists have put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would restore voting rights to most ex-offenders when they have completed their terms, including those still on probation or parole. This follows similar changes in the laws of Alabama, Maryland, and Wyoming.
In the meantime, only Maine and Vermont have maintained voting rights for incarcerated individuals; these states serve as a model for others, such as New Jersey, where the Democrats, who recently took control of all three branches of government, intend to introduce a bill to end the disenfranchisement of felons and restore their right to vote.
Proponents claim that allowing convicted felons to have a voice in their communities has substantial therapeutic consequences, while opponents argue that they should not be allowed to take part in a process that could end up changing the very laws they have broken.
Jackson’s involvement in politics while incarcerated set him up for success in the outside world. He petitioned lawmakers about prison reform, established an NAACP branch, and cast his first vote while behind bars. Following his release in 2013, he returned to school to get a master’s degree and is now an advocate for convicts and their families with the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition.
“It dedicated me to prison reform, social change, and to working for social justice,” Jackson said of the vote in 2008, which occurred almost midway through his nearly two decades in prison. Having a sense of community and being a contributing member of society is essential.
Voting, according to advocates and corrections officials, keeps convicts connected to the outside world.
Tom Dalton, executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, remarked, “When you’re incarcerated, it’s difficult to feel connected to the community.” “We want incarcerated individuals to remain connected to the community and to be civically engaged, so that when they are released they are interested in being useful members of society.”
Not everyone is in favor of allowing convicts and former inmates to vote. Republicans around the nation have defended voter disenfranchisement measures based on felony convictions.