Friday, August 28, 2009

introduction: prisoners and human rights

Editorial NY times
Prisoners and Human Rights
Published: July 31, 2006
The United States has the worst record in the free world when it comes to stripping convicted felons of the right to vote. In contrast, most European countries hold that right so dear that they bring ballot boxes into prisons.
This point was underscored last week in a scalding report from the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which held hearings earlier this month to determine how well the United States was complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which this country ratified in 1992. The hearings heard testimony about secret detentions, kidnappings and accusations of torture.
But they also dealt with how the United States treats its prison inmates, particularly the disenfranchisement laws that bar more than five million convicted felons from the polls. The American representative weakly defended the practice’s legality, but dodged explaining its rationale, saying the rules come from the states, not the federal government.
In a common-sense report made public Friday, the committee said that blanket disenfranchisement was inconsistent with the covenant and served no rehabilitative purpose. Noting that disenfranchisement disproportionately affects minorities, the report urged the United States to restore voting rights to citizens who have served their sentences or who are released on parole. The report is not legally binding. But it reminds us how poorly we treat ex-offenders compared with democracies abroad.