View Full Version : Prisoners want their voices heard on election day (Democratics speak at EMCF)

10-07-2004, 07:18 PM

POLITICAL FORUM - Melba Clark, chairman of the Lauderdale County Democratic Executive Committee, speaks to about 120 inmates at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility on Thursday during a political forum. Sally Brown, chairman of the Lauderdale County Republican Executive Committee, also had been invited but notified prison officials at the last minute she would not be able to attend. Under Mississippi law, some convicted felons are allowed to vote and local Democrats have conducted an active voter registration drive among them.

By Steve Gillespie / staff writer

October 7, 2004

What was planned as a Republican and Democratic political rally at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility on Wednesday turned into a Democratic event when the scheduled GOP spokesman didn’t show up.

About 120 inmates in the privately-run prison heard Melba Clark, chairman of the Lauderdale County Democratic Executive Committee, tell them why voting for Sen. John Kerry for president would be in their best interest.

Sally Brown, chairperson of the Lauderdale County Republican Executive Committee, said she had agreed to take part in the event, but had a family matter come up that prevented her from attending.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there,” Brown said in a telephone interview after the event.

Clark told inmates the next presidential administration will have an impact on what life will be like for some of them when they leave prison.

“First of all, you will look for a job. Kerry has pledged to limit out-sourcing and keep jobs in the United States,” Clark said. “He does not believe companies moving jobs out of the country should get tax breaks.”

She also said Kerry would work to make sure they have health insurance coverage and that education programs are fully funded.

“What I like about the Democratic Party is it looks out for all its citizens. Sure, we want to better for ourselves. But we don’t want less for our neighbors,” Clark told the inmates.

Educating inmates

Wednesday’s event was part of a voting education program for inmates that includes letting them watch televised debates between the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Part of the program included making sure inmates, who were eligible to vote, registered and learned how to exercise their right to vote.

The move to register inmates began about six months ago by Gloria Williams, director of education, and Norbert D. Luster, vocational rehabilitation coordinator at the prison.

About 230 inmates registered to vote by sending in their registration forms and requests for absentee ballots to the circuit clerk’s office in their home county. Eight or nine of the inmates are registered in Lauderdale County, according to Circuit Court Clerk Donna Jill Johnson.

“We’re the only facility I know of in the state of Mississippi that has taken this step forward to energize an inmate population to register, then to vote absentee ballot, and to ensure the absentee ballot is filled out properly, notarized, and sent back so their voice can be counted,” Luster said.

Johnson said more than 50 other inmates in the Lauderdale County jail registered to vote last week. That effort was led by the group PASSAGE, an acronym for Positive Associates Systematically Seeking Advancement Growth and Empowerment, according to Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie.

The best they can be

The educators at East Mississippi Correctional Facility said registering inmates to vote boosts their self-esteem.

“A lot of them did not get a high school diploma, but that wasn’t because they were not able mentally or did not have the educational tools,” Williams said.

“They did not have the desire to do it or there was no one there to push them to do that. This is what our department is for — it’s to work with them to help them to have good self-esteem.

“We’re preparing every student, even if they end up staying here, to be the best that they can be wherever life carries them. We want them to go back out in society and be able to be productive citizens, get a job, pay Social Security and be able to vote.”

Williams said the prisoners also participate in job fairs and are taught how to fill out job applications.

“We thought this was another form of helping students be able to go back out in society,” Williams said.

10-07-2004, 07:19 PM
I am just a tad bit confused by this article. From all I have seen and heard, all felons loose their right to vote. Does anyone know the exception?