Black man in handcuffs

Do Former Inmates Know They Can Vote?

For many years, California’s prison system has been a source of controversy and confusion. A new report by a nonprofit organization that fights for equality, the Greenlining Institute, has brought up yet another issue with the California justice system. It turns out that many former inmates did not realize they could vote in elections. The laws surrounding voting rights and people incarcerated in prisons vary from state to state, resulting in quite a bit of misinformation surrounding the voting process. 12 states within the United States do not allow former inmates to vote in any of their elections, but California is not one of those states. In California, currently incarcerated people or people who are out on parole may not vote, but they can vote with no extra procedures once they have finished their sentences. People can also vote in California if they were initially arrested but used a bail bond to get out of jail before their trial. However, 60 percent of the former inmates interviewed for the Greenlining Institute’s report thought that they were not allowed to vote. Some of the previous inmates thought that they could never vote again, while others thought that they had to fill out many forms and go through a complicated process in order to regain voting rights. Other people are confused because they think that their voting rights stop the instant they are first arrested. Most former inmates did not realize that they just need to fill out the basic voter registration form, even though they were previously in prison. Unfortunately, the fact that they cannot vote during probation leads many inmates to think that they cannot ever vote again. Though inmates are given some information about their voting rights after they leave prison, the findings of the report suggest that the current information given to inmates is unclear or confusing. Some people believe that the best way to stop this confusion is to extend voting rights to people who are currently incarcerated or on parole in California. With the upcoming presidential elections, it is imperative that inmates are informed of their rights surrounding the voting process. This is also important for the many elections in California that affect the rights of former and current inmates. Elections for things such as reforming the state’s three strikes law directly influence the future of many former inmates, so it can be incredibly frustrating for former inmates who think they cannot vote. When former inmates are barred from voting, it makes them feel powerless and outcast from society. According to the authors of the report, feeling like their voting rights are suppressed leads former inmates to commit more crimes instead of becoming productive members of society. Hopefully, in the future, inmates will be given more information about their voting rights, so that they can make a difference in California’s elections.

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