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Op-Ed: Prop 17 Provides Redemptive Justice for Parolees

End the continued injustice of denying an American their right to vote.

By Anna Lisa Bastian and Clancey Cornell

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tens of thousands of tax-paying, working citizens have been barred from California’s electoral process since our state’s inception. Luckily, we do have a chance to fix that for future cycles. Prop 17 will amend the California Constitution to restore the right to vote for people on parole. A yes vote would ensure that 50,000 California parolees would regain what never should have been taken away.

California is among the many states in this country that perpetuate a dark history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement by denying the right to vote to incarcerated citizens. Between parolees and those currently incarcerated, nearly 320,000 California citizens won’t have a say in what is arguably the most important election in recent history.

Civic engagement makes communities safer, healthier, and increases citizens’ probability to stay out of prison. Denying a parolee’s right to vote increases their chances of recidivism. If parole is indeed a path towards reintegration into society, it is wholly unacceptable to keep 50,000 taxpaying parolees from voting on policies that affect their lives.

By barring someone from their fundamental rights to participate in democracy, we are sabotaging former prisoners’ rehabilitation. How can one reintegrate into society when their incentives to participate are denied? Why would anyone feel empowered to become a “better citizen” without the opportunity to vote? If you are among the lucky citizens who can vote in this election, voting YES on Prop 17 is an easy choice.

After serving a seven-year sentence and twoyears on parole, Richard Reseda cast his first ballot ever this year. The Los Angeles activist, abolitionist, and organizer stated that he finally felt as though he had a direct say in his community. Obviously, he voted yes Prop 17, an initiative he helped build while incarcerated. Richard’s organization Initiate Justice worked for three years to get Prop 17 on the ballot, and YOU can vote YES on it.

Felony disenfranchisement was written into California’s first constitution and reinforced during the Jim Crow era. Now California locks up a higher percentage of its people than many wealthy democracies do, with an incarceration rate of 581 per 100,000 people. One out of every 13 African American citizens is denied their right to vote due to either past convictions — most of which were in prison for nonviolent/minor drug offenses. This rate is more than 4 times that of non-African Americans. Tying carceral punishment to voting has been a key aspect of the systematic oppression that has cheated black and brown people of their rights for centuries.

VOTE YES on prop 17 to end the continued injustice of denying an American their right to vote.

Want to learn more about your 2020 election ballot? Check out KNOCK.LA’s Voter Guide, which breaks down propositions and candidate platforms for over 120 races in and around LA County.

KNOCK.LA is a project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.

Anna Lisa Bastian and Clancey Cornell are graduate students at the USC Suzanne Dworak Peck School of Social Work interested in addressing the injustices of voter suppression and the Grand Challenge of Smart Decarceration.