“Crime and corrections are at the intersection of rights and responsibilities. Those who commit crimes violate the rights of others and disregard their responsibilities. But the test for the rest of us is whether we will exercise our responsibility to hold the offender accountable without violating his or her basic rights. Even offenders should be treated with respect for their rights.”
“Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice”
Iowa is one of only two states that has resisted the national trend of past decades to restore the right to vote to those convicted of a felony who have served their sentence. At the urging of Governor Kim Reynolds, the Iowa legislature is considering whether to initiate the process that would amend the state constitution to grant ex-offenders voting rights as they gain the opportunity to become full participants in society.
As standard procedure, Iowa law follows a strict protocol that permanently suspends the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony. Ex-offenders have the option of petitioning the governor to restore their voting rights on completion of their sentences, any required probation, parole, or supervised release, and after paying court costs, fees and restitution. The decision is made on a case-to-case basis, at the discretion of the executive office. In spite of efforts to simplify the process in recent years, it remains a daunting prospect and one the vast majority fail to complete or even attempt.
As Catholics, we don’t abandon those that commit crimes, and consider it our obligation to assist those who undertake the process of addressing the damage they have inflicted and are working to repay their debt to the community. The common good can’t be served by rejecting them in their effort to rejoin society as contributing, law-abiding members. We are called to support, not obstruct, that reintegration and restoration, for the benefit of all.
Civic participation is a moral obligation of our faith teaching, and exercising the right and responsibility of participating as voters is a key component. Restoring the right to those convicted of a felony who have satisfied their debt is a measure of mercy, but also dignity and justice. The Iowa Catholic Conference supports amending the state constitution to create a path that imposes fewer barriers and is less arbitrary while protecting the interests of the people of the state.