The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, October 24, 2008

Prisoners' Rights to Vote in the United States.

I recently discovered two things about prisoners in the United States: the first is that, in most states, prisoners are not allowed to vote; the other thing is that in two states, Vermont and Maine, they are.

Now, this situation gave me pause to reflect. Firstly, I noted that the fact that the law is different from one place to another, inside the USA, is different to many countries, in which the law is uniform. Secondly, I found myself agreeing with one side and disagreeing with the other.

What effect does it have if a society has a large number of prisoners (as the USA does) and they ARE allowed to vote? What sort of people are more likely to get elected? I contend that representatives who are SOFT on crime are more likely to be elected. Over time, society's stand against crime would be eroded in any society that allowed prisoners to vote. If you want to have a low crime society that is low crime partly because it is hard on criminals, you cannot and should not allow prisoners to vote. To do so, is to gradually allow the nation to drift away from a position hard on crime. In short, to allow criminals to vote is to ensure that there is more crime on the streets of your nation. Voting criminals would lead, eventually, to shorter sentences, reductions in punishments, the abolition of the death penalty and so many other of society's stands against crime, would vanish.

It doesn't make sense to give criminals a say, however indirect, in how they are punished for their crimes. Hence, I think it is a foolish society that allows criminals a vote - it is a society that is guaranteeing the expansion of "criminals' rights" and an upsurge, ultimately, in crime, that no-one could ever want, apart from the criminals, themselves.

Maine and Vermont disagree with me. In those two states, US prisoners enjoy normal voting rights in the upcoming Presidential election. It stands to reason that they are, as a unit, more likely to vote for the President whom they perceive is softer on crime, or more likely to behave in some way to make their lives better. I cannot think that this is a good influence on the election in the US.

Now, does it really matter? Well, it does, for the numbers of people involved are huge. One in forty Americans is presently barred from voting owing to a felony conviction - that's right 2.5% of the US public cannot vote, because of a criminal past. That also means 2.5% of Maine and Vermont voters who CAN vote despite a criminal past, will influence the electoral results there.

Ten of the states in the US have a permanent ban on the voting of ex-offenders, who committed a felony, a further fifteen states have a ban that extends beyond the end of the prison sentence, for a certain time (for instance, five years in Delaware). Only two states allow voting by prisoners.

There are many who protest that the civil rights of prisoners are being denied by this. Yet, I ask you were not the civil rights of their victims being denied when they mugged, murdered, raped them? Surely, such a basic denial of rights to other humans should be punished by a denial of the right to vote (since it influences how they will be punished)?

The term for this denial of the rights of prisoners to vote is called Felony Disenfranchisement. Contrary to those who argue against it, I think it is a wise move to prevent undue influence of criminals, as a voting block, on matters that might affect how they are treated by the system. So, I find myself in the unusual position of supporting a denial of rights - but I think that is the only reasonable thing to do, given the peculiar nature of the situation. Would you give a criminal under trial a vote on his own jury? No-one would...but giving a prisoner the vote is equivalent to doing so - because it gives them an indirect say in the nature of punishment that will be enacted in law, for the crimes they might consider committing in future, should they be released. Society is not made safer, thereby, by giving criminals the right to vote - it is giving them an indirect power over their own fate that cannot, by any sensible society, be given to them.

So, well done to those US states that disenfranchise their felons...and shame on Vermont and Maine for not thinking on a longer term basis about the influence of criminals on their legal system.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:06 PM 


Blogger Shannon said...

Should a prisoner permanently lose his or her right to vote? Once an inmate has become rehabilitated, and proves himself to be a responsible member of society, the voting right should be restored. A lifelong ban assumes that a prisoner's behavior cannot change for the better; this is an incorrect assumption.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

I always enjoy a good policy argument, Mr. Cawley. A good amount of analysis shows up in your writing. This is something I continue to appreciate.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Shannon,

Whether or not rehabilitation is possible depends very much on the person. For some criminals crime is a youthful phase out of which they grow, with some regret and later understanding. However, with others there is a lifelong dalliance with crime which nothing ever seems to eradicate.

How could one create a balanced response to this situation?

To take account of your view that rehabilitation is possible (I would say for some, not for all), perhaps a period of ban after imprisonment could be followed by a tailored response. If the prisoner ever reoffends, then the ban could become permanent. If they do not reoffend for a fixed period, the ban could be lifted. That would allow a response that takes account of the tendency of some people to mature into better people.

Best wishes.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Shannon - I try to take reason to all things and thereby come to a better understanding and viewpoint. I am glad you enjoy my efforts to do so.

Your comments are, as always, appreciated - particularly that they come from a different set of experiences and background: thereby making them more valuable as discourse.

Kind regards

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anon(IQ172) said...

Poisoning the well is a logical fallacy.

Slippery slope is an informal fallacy.

You're obviously bias...

3:02 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your reply is very interesting on many counts, that have nothing to do with your intentions.

I am going to assume that either you must be very young, or that you don’t have an IQ of 172, as you claim, because you have made three mistakes in your short comment. That is, everything you have said is wrong.

Firstly, “bias” is spelt incorrectly and should read “biased”. This is the kind of mistake that Singlish speakers make, so perhaps you are Singaporean.

Secondly, you have suggested that I have used a poison well argument…well, I haven’t. (An argument that, for instance, this man is a prisoner, therefore you can’t trust what he says). I have used no such argument, I have merely argued that a prisoner is more likely to vote for someone who is soft on crime – and this is blindingly obvious. Only a very STUPID prisoner would not vote for the candidate who was softer on crime. So, it is almost certain that almost all prisoners or former prisoners will vote for the candidate who is soft on crime and believes in lesser punishments etc.

Thirdly, you have suggested I have used a slippery slope argument (one in which a chain of events is supposed to lead to an outcome, without justifying the chain of events). I have not. I have justified the causal relation between the initial event and its consequences, quite clearly. As above, a prisoner will vote for whoever is softer on crime. This is not a slippery slope argument. The fact that this will lead to lesser sentences is not a slippery slope argument, it is a direct logical consequence because the prisoner will always be making a choice between candidates who may have different views on crime: a thinking prisoner will always choose the softer on crime, if he is at all thinking of his own chances of being imprisoned in future (which he will).

Finally, you have yourself used a poisoning the well argument by claiming an IQ of 172 – for such an argument also applies to positive influences on a person’s thinking, by prior information. You are, in effect, saying: “I have an IQ of 172, therefore trust what I say to be true.” Well, I don’t trust it, because nothing you have said is true. In fact, it is poorly reasoned – because you haven’t understood the arguments well or perhaps you don’t really know what “poisoning the well” and “slippery slope” actually are. For slippery slope it is not the style of argument that is at fault, but whether or not the causative chain has been justified/supported.

That you would use a logical fallacy (IQ of 172) to support your own accusation of logical fallacy, indicates that either you are intellectually unaware, or that you are not actually in possession of an IQ of 172 (since it shows that you are unable to recognize your own style of argument and its flaws).

By the way, the idea that an IQ of 172 would be good enough to challenge my own mental powers has not been established, by you, either – although you are confident that this is so, by stating it.

So, in summary, I am not biased, at all – I am merely logical. You, however, are not logical and have not understood the argument presented, in the least. I find that remarkable for someone who claims an IQ of 172 (which, by the way, is rather rare).

Thank you, however, for your stimulating remark. It made me realize that, even if written clearly, an argument can be still be misunderstood – even by people with an IQ of 172.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Miao said...

That IQ test probably did not measure logical reasoning skills.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Miao...that is probably the case. If it had measured logic, and it was truly 172, I wouldn't be having this written conversation.


4:31 PM  

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