----- Original Message -----
From: Taoss - Sherry Swiney
To: PATRICK Crusade
Sent: Sunday, June 15, 2003 8:22 PM
Subject: Local judge supports restoring offender rights
Sent: Sunday, June 15, 2003 6:30 PM
Subject: Prison Issue
Local judge supports restoring offender rights
By Tracy McCooey
6/15/03 Montgomery Advertiser on-line
Our criminal justice system works when it effectively conveys a clear, unwavering message to the public: "If you break the law, you will be obligated to pay the debt you owe to your community."
In other words, if you do the crime, you will have to serve the time.
My power as a judge rests in my ability to demonstrate unequivocally to offenders -- and to potential offenders whose future crimes must be prevented -- that disobeying the law will result in a specific, concrete consequence.
In order for the punishment I mete out to mean something, it must "fit the crime."
If the punishment is to act as a disincentive against the perpetration of future crime against the community, the sentence I impose as a judge must have a clear beginning, middle and end. This approach alone will bring more justice to Alabama and more safety to our streets, schools, homes and workplaces.
As a judge, it is my duty to enforce the law and to advocate for rational, effective forms of punishment.
It is for this reason that I support, upon the completion of their sentences, the restoration of voting rights for people who have committed felonies.
House Bill 104, which I support, would restore the right to offenders only after they have served their entire sentence and would not restore the right to vote to people convicted of violent crimes, including rape, murder and sexual abuse of children.
Given Alabama's extreme prison over-crowding, exacerbated by the state's financial crisis, I see every reason to discourage recidivism by restoring the right to vote.
While there are no compelling arguments favoring modern day felon disenfranchisement laws, there remains a strong public safety rationale for opening up the electoral arena to former felons.
According to Marc Mauer of the Washington-based Sentencing Project, in the United States more than 600,000 prisoners return home each year. The justice system and the community are challenged to find ways to reduce the likelihood that these people will re-offend. One way to go about doing this is to instill in the ex-felon a sense of obligation and responsibility to the community.
Finding gainful employment, becoming a productive member of one's community and showing up to vote on election day -- all of these are means to the end of increasing individuals' accountability to their society.
As a judge, I know that effectively instilling this sense of accountability is a proven method of deterring crime.
In order to do its job of punishing crimes that have been committed, rehabilitating the offender, and preventing future crime, our criminal justice system needs to focus on how crime destroys relationships within the context of the community. Offenders need to understand and to take responsibility for their actions.
The Victim-Offender Conferencing Program provides voluntary opportunities for the victim, the offender, the court and the community to take part in the process of repairing the fabric of the community together. Re-enfranchising former felons is another means to this same, critical end.
Because our mission is to restore justice to the community, we as judges are failing if we do not facilitate the entry of people back into the community once they have paid their debt to society.
My experience on the bench tells me that restoring voting rights to certain felons who have paid their debt to society is another important way to reintegrate these individuals back into society. As a society, we want these individuals to work, pay taxes and support their families, but even more importantly, we want these individuals to
understand what it means to be a "good citizen."
Tracy McCooey is a Montgomery County circuit judge and founder of the Victim-Offender Conferencing Program