For the past several months those of us in the prison litigation realm have watched the battle over prisoners’ voting rights unfold in the United Kingdom and the European Union. Now we enjoy the ability to participate in our own such discussions, albeit not for current prisoners, but former prisoners in California.
California state law prohibits those currently in prison or on parole from voting. But in 2011, a wrench was thrown into the mix. In an effort to help alleviate the overburdened parole roster (due to shifts made in an effort to reduce overcrowding in the CDCR), the policy concerning nonviolent prisoners was revised. No longer would they be placed upon parole following their release from custody, but they would be placed on probation (sometimes called “supervised release”) and monitored not by state parole officers, but by county probation departments.
The crux of the issue concerns the 63,000 nonviolent prisoners released since October 2011. They appear to be in a no man’s land; not restricted from voting as prisoners and parolees are, yet not specifically authorized to vote like those who have completed their terms of imprisonment and post-release supervision. In California, those who have completed their terms of imprisonment and parole have their voting rights automatically reinstated by the state .
According to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and state elections officials, released prisoners, nonviolent or not, who are placed on probation are not eligible to vote. The ACLU disagrees, emphatically stating that these former prisoners on probation or supervised release — whatever the term of the day is — do have the right to vote.
In an effort to settle the matter, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, along with the San Francisco-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights have filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court against Secretary Bowen.
To learn more about this developing story, visit the L.A. Times.