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Prison and Politics

W. Scott Cole

Posted on March 13, 2020 23:07

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I would be willing to bet the political views of prison inmates are something you have never thought about. Now that I have brought it up, aren’t you curious about the ways those men and women think about the politics and politicians in our country? Read on if your answer is “yes”. You may be surprised at what you find out.

Although only Maine and Vermont allow incarcerated people to vote, prison inmates do have political views that evolve over time and they do have (sometimes very) spirited discussions about those views. For the first time, a recent survey was jointly conducted by the Marshall Project and Slate.com, two online magazines. Survey questionnaires were sent to prisons all across the country and over 8,000 inmates responded.

Roughly half of the respondents identified themselves as people of color, with 20% being black, 14% Latino, 17% Native American, 19% Asian and other races, while 41% were white. I know, that is over 100%, but the questionnaire allowed respondents to choose more than one race, which many mixed race respondents did.

Most had completed high school and were between 26 and 45-years-old; most of them will spend from five to over 21 years in prison. Many of them did not follow politics nor did they vote before they were incarcerated. However, either because of their time in prison or from getting older (or a combination of the two), their attitudes changed over time.

The prevailing view on both sides of the aisle is that Democrats are very interested in giving prison inmates the right to vote while incarcerated because they would give Democrats a very large bloc of reliable votes. Surprisingly, the prevailing view is wrong. Among white men, 45% support President Trump, 30% would support a Democratic candidate, and 25% said they either would not vote or did not know who they would vote for.

Among those of color, 20% support former Vice President Biden, Senator Sanders garners 16%, and the rest said they didn’t know who they would vote for, if they voted at all.

If the election were held today and they were allowed to vote, 45% of whites would vote for President Trump, with Would Not Vote/Don’t Know coming in second place at 25%. Third place was Bernie Sanders at 10%. Among people of color, the top answer was Don’t Know/Would Not Vote at 29%. Surprisingly, second place is held by President Trump at 19%, followed closely by Senator Sanders at 16% and former Vice President Biden at 13%.

Added up, prisoners would reelect President Trump with 64% of the vote. Bernie Sanders would come in second with 26% with Joe Biden a close third at 20%. In anyone’s book, that would be considered a landslide victory.

Unsurprisingly, 80% of prison inmates do not believe politicians act with their interests in mind and this belief crossed all racial lines. In spite of that, 52% of inmates with sentences of over 21 years said doing time has increased their motivation to vote while only 27% of those incarcerated less than one year said the same.

That barely scratches the surface of the complexity of politics in prison. It is as much or more of a mixed bag compared to those outside the prison walls.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on March 13, 2020 23:07

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Source: The Hill
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