Letter to the Editor

Voting rights for felons

Sunday, March 8, 2020

We are right at the half way point of this session of the Iowa Legislature. Legislation is being formulated and tweaked as the funnel looms. The issue of voting rights for felons released from prison remains in the mix, going forward. It could get to the point of putting the matter to a vote of the people.

There is a lot of talk going around about how once someone has "served their time" in prison, the voting rights should be restored. Some of us say, "Not so fast. It has to do with the concept of restorative justice and restitution to the criminal's victim(s), and their family. If I understand it correctly, the governor is in favor of restoring rights. She is also alright with waiving court costs and fines related to the offender's offense, but victim restitution remains a point of contention. Some would say, "How can you make restitution to someone whose spouse has been killed?" You can't, adequately. However, if the wording and meaning of a statute makes it clear that part of "doing time, or "paid their debt to society" includes restoring some semblance of financial stability (replacing some of that victim's earnings over a period of decades), then we might be getting closer to actually "completing one's sentence.

Lest we forget, the victim usually was doing nothing wrong, and the criminal usually had evil intent, hence a crime was committed, and the perpetrator imprisoned. In a perfect world, the prisoner would be expected to work out a plan, (during incarceration), for some form of restitution. Any earnings while in prison would be appropriately distributed to the victim's heirs. Prior to release, said offender would have to demonstrate that the restitution process had been implemented. Parole/release would include finding and maintaining a job, the pay for which would continue to be distributed so that victim restitution could truly be an ongoing process. Only if the victim's family signed off on the matter, and requested no restitution be paid, would the restitution be waived. But since we do not live in a perfect world, we can only do our due diligence, and insure that the offender's parole officer is on the same page. Accountability is an important aspect of true justice.

Bill Kersting, Spencer