On November 3, 2020, California voters will have the opportunity to support rehabilitation in the justice system by approving Proposition 17. Currently, returning citizens cannot vote until after they have finished parole. However, Proposition 17 would offer people who have served their sentences for felony convictions and are now on parole the ability to reconnect with a key right of citizenship—participation in democratic elections. According to Dr. Bazemore and Dr. Stinchcomb from the Florida Atlantic University Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the process of voting can reinforce a returning citizen’s connection to society, facilitating successful re-entry; this benefits not only those who were formerly incarcerated, but also society as a whole.
After serving out their sentences, paroled individuals are faced with the challenge of reintegrating into society, a process which should include the opportunity to re-engage with civic responsibilities such as voting. As a disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic people are imprisoned, current legislation disenfranchising paroled individuals disproportionately limits the right to civic engagement for these demographics. According to parole projections from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Proposition 17 would extend the right to cast a ballot to around 50,000 people in the following election cycle. The rehabilitative focus of this proposition is not new; in 2016, California voters voted for the passage of Proposition 57, which incentivized good behavior, created in-prison programs to prepare felons to return to civilian life, and expedited parole for non-violent offenders. Ultimately, Proposition 17 would have no negative effects on society, and it would inevitably assist the goal of the justice system to rehabilitate those who have been systematically marginalized, successfully reintegrating them into American democratic processes and society.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Proposition 17 has received the support of the ACLU, Governor Gavin Newsom, former prosecutor and Vice Presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris, and the League of Women Voters of California, among others. California has a long way to go in its progress toward offering rehabilitative opportunities to people who have been incarcerated with felonies; 16 other states already offer the right to vote immediately after leaving incarceration, and in Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, felons never lose the right to vote due to incarceration.
By approving Proposition 17, California voters can demonstrate their commitment to the rehabilitation and the social reintegration of individuals with criminal histories by reinstituting democratic rights to American citizens whose sentences have already been served.