By Carly Wipf, San Jose Spotlight
SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to endorse a measure slated for the November ballot that restores voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals.
If Proposition 17 is passed by the state’s voters, California will follow in the footsteps of 19 other states by allowing residents on parole for felony convictions to vote upon finishing their sentences and being released.
“Everyone has a past. That past should not determine someone’s future,” Councilmember Lan Diep said.
Several residents, including Cynthia Diaz who spoke on the issue ahead of the City Council’s vote Tuesday, agreed and said they want to welcome formerly incarcerated people back into the community.
“People make mistakes,” Diaz said. “They should be allowed to come back to society, pay their taxes and freely be able to vote. We shouldn’t take people’s voice away.”
Diaz said if California doesn’t help people fully rejoin the community, then those individuals might be more likely to return to crime.
“I’d rather have people come freely into our society, into our community, and start doing things right,” Diaz said. “We have to be the ones to support them and give them the tools to be successful.”
Councilmember Raul Peralez said reintegrating into society can be challenging enough for former inmates.
“With the thousands of individuals that we have incarcerated in our state alone, it is extremely important that as these people come back into society, that they have an opportunity to participate in the democratic process, rather than be excluded from that as they have been for years,” Peralez said.
According to Shay Franco-Clausen, a San Jose native working with the Yes on Prop. 17 campaign, voting restrictions on incarcerated individuals and people on parole are a result of Jim Crow Laws that long oppressed people of color and kept them from voting.
Three out of every four men in U.S. prisons are men of color. Data from the Sentencing Project shows one in every 13 felons in the United States who lose their right to vote are Black.
“We can’t have an electoral turnout that’s representative at all when people are excluded from the process,” Franco-Clausen said.
She said representation of people who are from different backgrounds and have experienced a variety of traumas is critical for democracy. The traumas or lack of services people face are only highlighted and addressed by policy if people are given a voice, she said.
“Voting is not a privilege. It’s a right,” Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said. “We think of ourselves as a progressive state. We are truly not.”
Currently, only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow incarcerated individuals to vote. In 2016, California passed legislation that allowed individuals in county jails to vote while incarcerated, but this does not apply to inmates in state or federal prisons.
Around 125,000 inmates make up California’s prison population, according to a report from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and nearly 50,000 incarcerated individuals are expected to be on active parole by the end of 2020.
“We should not be discriminating against a group of people who have gone to jail, paid their time for the crime they committed,” said Councilmember Pam Foley.
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