Allowing prison inmates to vote would be reckless and dangerous

Dear Editor,

I came across an online news site that bandied the idea of prisoners at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Service (BDCS) being allowed to vote in the upcoming general election. The author of the piece obviously opposes felony disenfranchisement, but it would appear that his opposition is politically motivated, without any goodwill for the inmates at BDCS.

Inmates at the former Her Majesty’s Fox Hill Prison are political pawns in a game of chess with the writer. Whichever political party is in high office, be it the Free National Movement (FNM) or the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), it has the custodial responsibility of managing the BDCS facility. The writer knows this.

Any allegations of maltreatment at the prison would obviously be levied against the incumbent administration, particularly the sitting minister of national security.

With the barrage of allegations of maltreatment at the prison facility by alleged former inmates being printed in The Tribune every other week, fingers seem to now be pointing in the direction of the FNM government.

The aforementioned author assumes that the entire prison population would automatically cast their ballots for the PLP, in the event they’re enfranchised. However, there are logistical, practical and moral reasons which should preclude any thought of enfranchising the prison population.

According to World Prison Brief, there were 1,778 inmates at the BDCS, which includes pre-trial detainees and remand prisoners in the maximum, medium and minimum security units and the remand center, as of September 2018. With a capacity of 1,000, the occupancy level was at 177.8 percent at the BDCS, as of the foregoing date.

There were 1,500 inmates in the BDCS in 2006; 1,600 in 2012 and 1,746 in 2016. Based on the foregoing figures, it means that an average of 1,600 inmates are at the prison in any given year.

Giving 1,600 disgruntled inmates the right to vote would be political suicide for the incumbent administration in the Fox Hill constituency, especially with those hardened criminals who believe that they have been unfairly treated by the state.

It can be assumed that whichever party is responsible for the enactment and enforcement of Marco’s Law will garner very little sympathy from hardened pedophiles in the prison system at the polling booths. Moreover, convicted murderers will unanimously oppose any political party that calls for the carrying out of the death penalty; and convicted rapists will almost certainly vote against any party that calls for flogging with the cat-o-nine tails for those guilty of egregious sexual offenses.

My point is, doing away with felony disenfranchisement will set a very dangerous precedent, in which unscrupulous politicians would stoop to the level of engaging in political pandering to career criminals, who are in and out of penitentiary, which would place law-abiding Bahamians in an awkward and unsafe situation.

We must always be cognizant of the fact that the “guilty” inmates in the maximum security unit have murdered, raped and grievously assaulted other human beings. While law-abiding Bahamians are clamoring lawmakers to enact stiffer penalties and impose lengthier prison sentences, prison inmates will undoubtedly lobby for the complete opposite.

Political pandering to prison inmates would be self-defeating. Bahamians expect their government to protect them from the criminal elements. Any move to pander to hardened prison voters would undermine national security. A situation like the foregoing would render the role and purpose of the government as utterly useless.

And furthermore, there’s the logistical problem of which constituency inmates will be allowed to vote in, seeing that the prison is located in Fox Hill; and seeing that many hardened criminals lacked a fixed address, essentially being roving vagrants prior to their incarceration.

Four-thousand-eighty-nine Fox Hill voters cast their ballots in 2017.

If the Constituencies Commission adds the prison population to the current Fox Hill voter registry, there would be at least 6,500 registered voters in that constituency ahead of the 2021 election, making it one of the largest constituencies in The Bahamas.

Under such a scenario, the incumbent Fox Hill MP will always be at a distinct disadvantage, based on the foregoing.

For example, the FNM’s Shonel Ferguson got 2,444 votes, compared to the then PLP incumbent Fred Mitchell’s 2,198.

Had the Christie administration allowed prison inmates to vote in 2017, Ferguson would’ve probably outgained Mitchell by over 1,800 votes, rather than just 246, assuming adjustments would’ve not been made to achieve voter parity in the constituencies.

Any politician who proposes the idea of Fox Hill prison inmates voting should be permanently banned from frontline politics. Period.

In closing, The Bahamas is not in a unique position regarding felony disenfranchisement.

In the United States, only two states allows all prisoners to vote, no matter what their convictions are: Vermont and Maine; while Mississippi, Alabama and Alaska allow some of their prisoners to vote, depending on their convictions.

Therefore, no human rights activist in this country can appeal to American lawmakers to force the Bahamian government’s hand in allowing BDCS inmates to vote.

If prisoners at the former Fox Hill Prison are so anxious to cast their ballots, then they should stop going to prison.

I am for prison reform. I am for prisoners being treated humanely, with the goal of reforming them, so that they can re-enter society as productive citizens, lowering the recidivism rate in the process. But extending voting privileges to inmates sends the wrong message, particularly to the thousands of victims who have been hurt and traumatized by incarcerated criminals.

Kevin Evans

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