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Early this month, we attended a two-day conference in Watts put on by the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People's Movement, which is trying to sort through the patchwork quilt of state laws governing the voting rights of prisoners, parolees, probationers, and former prisoners.

black inmates

Many of the more than 100 attendees were "formerly incarcerated" themselves, others were family members, and yet others were activists, all looking to restore voting rights to the many hundreds of thousands of American citizens who have been locked up in the past or are locked up now.

Bottom line, the effort seems to be to help these individuals stay connected to society so that they can get off the back-to-prison cycle: As California's Attorney General Kamala Harris often says, 70% of released prisoners in this state will be back in custody within two years.

Bruce Reilly, one of the conference's organizers and a "formerly incarcerated" himself, puts the point of the conference this way:

"There are millions of people who have been incarcerated, millions more who have been on probation, and countless with a loved one trying to negotiate the lifetime of punishment and second class status that often attaches for life. When these voices step out of the shadows to be heard a shift in consciousness occurs. We are not statistics in a report, not clients needing services; we are neighbors and families who are needed as fully participating members, if not leaders, in our communities.Our survey this week, then, was more of a pop quiz -- but a deadly serious one -- designed to show just how pervasively our prison-industrial system is broken.

felons voting rights

Roughly how many Americans are denied the right the vote because of criminal records?

First, we asked how many Americans are denied the right to vote because of criminal records, which only a few of you (16%) knew to be between 5 and 7 million; it's 5.3 million according to a New York Times article. The largest number of you guessed the number to be more than 7 million (43%), which does show our awareness of this problem.

Next, we asked what two states currently allow incarcerated individuals to vote, as some other nations do -- notably Israel and Canada. After the largest percentage (29%) guessed that none of our choices were correct, the next highest was correct with Vermont and Maine (25%).

Notably, as pointed out at the Watts conference, states in the Deep South were most restrictive, while these two northern states with small populations of people of color are the most progressive.

felons voting

What two states currently allow incarcerated individuals to vote?

Race is clearly an issue with voting rights and the entire prison-industrial complex. Fully 60% of our prison population are Black or Hispanic, even though those group comprise just 29% of the US population. Again demonstrating awareness, most respondents estimated either 60% of the prison population (36% of you) or 70% of prisoners (39% of you) are either black or brown.

Here in California, people who have a felony conviction are only barred from voting if they are still in state prison or on parole. Off parole or on probation, they can still vote -- though much of the Watts conference focused on the issue of informing the formerly incarcerated that they can and should vote.

felons voting

In 2009, Blacks and Hispanics constituted 28.9% of the US population. What percentage of the US prison population was also Black or Hispanic?

High percentages of survey takers had this question right, with 36% saying individuals who have completed probation can vote and 50% saying that those who have completed parole can vote. Still, 47% said a felony conviction would prevent a person from every voting in California, which is true in some other states, but not here.

Thoughts on what should be done for felons and the right to vote were split. As the full set of remarks not he next page show, there was a contingent who think that felons should simply not vote, at least until they have somehow proven themselves:

"No vote to dirt bags. Felonies are MAJOR crimes."

felons voting

In California, a US citizen can vote if they (check all that are true):

Others were more measured:

"If the person is in jail, he should not be able to vote unless he is there only pending charges and hasn't made bail. After the person has served their sentence in full and completed probation and/or parole, their voting rights should be restored as they will have paid their debt to society. Prisoners lose many rights being incarcerated. The right to vote is one they should lose for committing serious crimes against the nation's citizens."

And a great many side with restoring voting rights across the board:

"We have become one of the most repressive states among the more developed countries in the world. We need to back off and look at first, putting fewer people in prison, especially for nonviolent crimes and then focus on rehabilitation again. Granting offenders the right to vote right along reminds them -- and us -- that they are citizens, too."

This week, with LA's Civic Fathers (and Mothers) pondering a huge payout to build a professional football stadium downtown and a storied college football franchise in shambles from a child rape and coverup scandal, we'll take a look at the role of sports in society.

dick price

Dick Price

Loss of voting privileges comes with the territory, and rightfully so.

We must restore them to full citizenship after they've paid their debt to society.

Once they have served their time they should be able to vote

Finished your sentence, including parole time, you should automatically get ALL your rights back

Committed the crime, served the time, paroled and good citizen.

don't know enough

some rights should be restored

they should have voting rights

definitely should have their right to vote returned even while incarcerated

Felons lack respect for the laws of this country they are fortunate enough to be living in. I would not want their "judgement" used in such major decisions as voting. NO, to felons being allowed to vote.

If a prisoner has served his/her term, I fully believe that person deserves the right to vote.

That prisoners are imprisoned, i.e., that they have had nearly all of their freedom to act as they wish confiscated, is punishment enough. Those who have served their sentences have already paid in full their putative debt to the larger society. Therefore, both groups should be allowed to vote.

The people who should not be allowed to vote are the criminals we have in the Congress & "religious" leaders who instruct their churches on the 'proper' way to vote!

There is clearly no reason to not allow a felon who is released not to vote and as far as I can see,no reason not to let all felons vote. They've probably got more at stake than most of us.

They should be allowed to vote after they have completed probation or parole.

Millions of jailed inmates, imprisoned prisoners are illegally denied the right to vote based on not having exhausted their final appeals, thus no final or due conviction. All inmates, prisoners, parolees, and ex-prisoners in California should have the franchise based on the following: 1. In 1849 California was admitted to the Union as a Free State with the following State Constitutional Article 1, Section 18: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, UNLESS FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF CRIMES, shall ever be tolerated in this State.” (caps added) One hundred and sixty-two (162) years ago, this Amendment successfully halted the expansion of Southern ‘chattel slave territory’ to California, it certified California as a new FREE STATE, and it provided FOR BOTH “Slavery” and “Involuntary Servitude… FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF CRIMES…” (2) In 1975 this then 124 year slavery proviso was replaced with Article 1, Section 6, Declaration of Rights (1974/75): “Slavery is prohibited. Involuntary Servitude is prohibited EXCEPT TO PUNISH CRIME.” So, while "...Slavery...to punish crime..." was prohibited in 1975, it was not abolished with the return of Citizenship rights to prisoners, including the right to vote. Therefore, California prisoners remain Slaves without the basic Citizenship right to vote. Both historically and contemporarily Slaves have never if rarely had the right to vote. So it is today in California, prisoner slaves do not have enforceable voting rights. California has been unconstitutionally holding prisoners as Slaves of the state for the past 36 years without the American Citizenship Right to Vote. Where in history have slaves had the right to vote? Vermont and Maine are rarities.

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I think that people who have served their sentences should be free to resume full rights of citizenship, including voting,

If they've paid their dues to society they should all get the vote back.

All should have the right to vote.

Every US Citizen in America should be able to vote incarcerated or not!

If they finish their time and any probation or parole required, they should be able to vote. That's their right as citizens.

not sure about currently imprisoned people, but once out, even on parole and probation, they should be encouraged to vote because that's what responsible citizens do.

They served their time and paid their debt to society. They should be allowed to vote, work, attend school, marry, have kids, etc.

I think Felons in prison should have their right to vote suspended but that only Public Office or Campaign Crimes should have a lifetime bar.

If they have not been convicted of a sex offense, wanton homicide or treason their voting rights should be restored after a first time conviction. More than that, no second chances.

If our prisons are designed for rehabilitation, and they have been released back into society, they should be allowed to vote.

All should be allowed to vote.

If rehabiliation is an objective, granting/ensuring suffrage to all is a means of saying all have a stake in their country and community.

No voting rights for a convicted felony.

Prisoners and parolees - rights suspended until completion of the term of sentence. Formerly incarcerated -- NO VOTING RIGHTS EVER FOR CHILD ABUSE OR MURDER OR CORPORATE FELONIES. Victimless crimes - rights restored.

I think that the formerly incarcerated definitely should have voting rights after completing the requirements of their sentences. I am less sure about prisoners but parolees should be able to vote as well as people on probation.

Voting Rights should have nothing to do with criminal convictions.

I believe that felons can earn back their rights by completing their period of probation.

It is my opinion that Felony are still citizens of the United States and they should be able to vote just as we are allowed to do! In Illinois Felonies are allowed to vote.

They should be allowed to vote. If they can vote, they will have more of a stake in the system and be less likely to be alienated and confirmed in criminal behavior. Also, much of legislation is directed at how convicted felons are treated. They should have a say in that.

Those who have completed probation should be able to vote.

Prisoners should have the right to vote in their home state, county and city by absentee ballot. No citizen should lose the right to vote.

They should have all voting rights after completing their punishment

Once they have served their time or other obligations, all should have their full rights of citizenship restored, including voting rights.

All US citizens should have the right to vote!

Until they have completed probation

If the person is in jail, he should not be able to vote unless he is there only pending charges and hasn't made bail. After the person has served their sentence in full and completed probation and/or parole, their voting rights should be restored as they will have paid their debt to society. Prisoners lose many rights being incarcerated. The right to vote is one they should lose for committing serious crimes against the nation's citizens.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I see it as a fitting punishment. On the other, so many people are wrongly incarcerated that it feels unjust.

Many of the people should not BE in prison. We need to reform the justice system because the current one teaches people who would not be jailed in other countries to become career criminals. We also need proper full time courses in life skills and job training for people in prisons. Career criminals in prison, especially those with a history of violence, should not vote. All others should have the opportunity.

After they've done their time, they should be able to vote.

I think that every U.S. citizen should be allowed to register and vote regardless of their status as a prisoner, on parole, on probation, or formerly incarcerated.

Everyone should have the right to vote.

No vote to dirt bags. Felonies are MAJOR crimes.

Depends. Most prisoners should not lose their right to vote, but loss of voting rights probably should be part of the sentence given to criminals who have violated the law regarding political participation, bribing politicians or fraudulent voting or such like. But that would individualize the denial, it should not be a blanket thing.

Yes, they are still citizens

Except those fairly and accurately deemed mentally incompetent, everyone should be allowed to vote.

I tried to answer the questions, and it didn't work. I think Calif's policy is reasonable, but many who have completed parole are unaware that they can now vote.

Since a small petty-theft during probation can turn into a felony. And people with way bigger crimes have the means to slip through without conviction, it is absolutely ridiculous to take away voting-rights for someone who has a felony in his history after having served his time or payed the restitution-fine.

people make mistakes...voters make mistakes...if you are a US citizen you should be allowed to vote.

We have become one of the most repressive states among the more developed countries in the world. We need to back off and look at first, putting fewer people in prison, especially for nonviolent crimes and then focus on rehabilitation again. Granting offenders the right to vote right along reminds them -- and us -- that they are citizens, too.