A new decision by California election officials paves the way for felons serving time under community supervision to gain the right to vote — a move that will re-enfranchise a number of Richmond residents.
There are currently over 40,000 felons under community supervision in California, a number that is poised to grow as the state continues efforts to reduce the number of criminals spending time behind bars. The vast majority of nonviolent criminals and first-time offenders in the state are now released into community supervision programs to carry out the remainder of their sentences.
Post Release Community Supervision is a program where low-risk felons are released from jail or prison to local supervisory agencies instead of the California Division of Adult Parole Operations. These new voting rights will not affect felons who are still serving part of their sentence as parolees. Under current regulations, a felon forfeits their right to vote until their sentence has been completed. This new policy reinstates the voting rights of felons who have not completed their sentences but have been released to community supervision.
“Just because you make a mistake in your life and you want to get it right, society shouldn’t hinder you from doing that,” said Antwon Cloird of Men and Women of Purpose, a Richmond organization that works to help people transition back into society after incarceration.
“This decision helps change the mindset that criminals have - that they aren’t empowered in society. Now they can see what it’s like to be an empowered citizen again,” Cloird explains.
The move from the state settles a lawsuit by civil rights groups over whether this class of felons can vote.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla stated at the time of the announcement that the decision was “compelled by conscience,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“It is not lost on me that persons of color are disproportionately represented in our correctional institutions and that undeniable disparities exist,” he said.
In Richmond, the move will also help reduce stigma around re-entry, according to Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan.
“There are a lot of people trying to reduce stigma around re-entering society, and this is a great step for that,” Captain Gagan said. “We think that people who have committed a crime and done their time deserve the right to be able to have their vote count.”