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Ballot measure could restore voting rights to felons on parole

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Alondra Campos
Staff Writer

Voting rights could be restored to people on parole for felony convictions in California through a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot. 

Proposition 17 would amend California’s state constitution to allow people with felony convictions who are on parole to vote before fully completing their parole sentence. As of now, California is one of three states that disqualifies people from voting until their imprisonment and parole sentences are complete.

“By restoring the fundamental right to vote, these individuals will begin to invest back into their community,” Shay Franco-Clausen, campaign manager for Proposition 17, said. “These individuals are expected to pay taxes, bills and care for their families but can’t vote on the laws that govern them and that is ridiculous and unfair.”

Organizations that support the measure include American Civil Liberties Union, Women League of Voters, White People 4 Black Lives, Brennan Center for Justice, and Mi Familia Vota.

“Half of the support is from organizations of people who have been impacted by the prison system in the U.S,” Franco-Clausen said.

Franco-Clausen has had experience with mass incarceration and said the most challenging part was reintegrating back into society after being released.

“Here I am, an Afro-Latina woman, survivor of sex trafficking, went to jail from it, and married a police officer of color,” Franco-Clausen said. “I now advocate for reforms and for people’s rights. I can say from first hand experience that reintegrating back into society was very challenging for me.”

Parole is a supervised program for inmates to reintegrate into their communities. It is only applied to felony cases where the individual is sent to state prison and only becomes an option until after the imprisonment sentence is completed. The inmate then must abide by specific conditions once parole is granted.

Thomas Allison, assistant professor of legal studies, said Proposition 17 positively responds to a historic attempt to disenfranchise criminals throughout history.

“People who are convicted of felonies are seen and treated at a substandard level,” Allison said. “But just because these individuals have committed unlawful acts does not mean we should strip them from their humanity.”

Allison added that restoring the right to vote for parolees in California could provide more voices and backgrounds for our elected officials.

“The majority of the people who vote follow the same demographics,” Allison said. “Allowing parolees to vote shows them that their vote does matter and therefore instills in them a belief in the system.”

According to the Bureau of Justice, 77 percent of inmates are rearrested within five years for the same crime and are more likely to commit the same crime within the first two years of release. 

“We have cases of repeated offenders because they are part of underserved communities that do not provide the resources for them to efficiently engage and give back to these communities,” Franco-Clausen said.

Roy Kwon, associate professor of sociology, said the stigma that surrounds people who have been convicted of felonies in society is an issue that Proposition 17 could also resolve.

“Just the logic of having to put down that you’ve been convicted of a felony is a stigma,” Kwon said.

Kwon said a measure of this type has been long overdue in regards to the criminal justice system the U.S practices and the form of punishment it imposes on its prisoners.

“In the U.S we take on a punitive view of crime, an eye for an eye mentality,” Kwon said. “Yes, people should be punished for the things they do, but we strip them from their humanity for 20 years and then continue to punish them for the rest of their life.”

Although U.S senators have shown their support for this proposition, such as Kamala Harris, other government officials think otherwise of the bill.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen claims that some of these parolees are murderers, rapists and perpetrators of high crimes that should not be allowed to vote until after their parole sentence is completed.

Jennifer Trejo, junior criminology major, said that although she understands the intention behind Proposition 17, she still believes that parolees should fulfill their parole sentence before being allowed to vote.

“These individuals who are convicted of these felonies gave up their rights temporarily by choosing to commit these actions,” Trejo said.”I think they should have the ability to regain their normal lives back, but not until they have fulfilled every step they need to do to get back into their community.”

Jesus Espinoza, junior legal studies major, said that although parole is a step towards the reintegration of inmates into society, it should be left as the supervised program that it currently is.

“Parole can be seen as a test for these individuals,” Espinoza said. “But it doesn’t mean that we should automatically grant them some of the rights they lost. It’s a step by step process.”

Alondra Campos can be reached at alondra.campos@laverne.edu.

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