When people are released from prison, society should have the goal of reintegrating them. That means that people can make a meaningful, wholesome contribution, which society ought to want for two reasons:

  1. Society as a whole will be healthier when we have more people making their contributions.
  2. People who get out of prison and become reintegrated are less likely to return to crime because they have replaced their destructive patterns with constructive patterns.

Part of integration — and an important part — is the ability to vote in elections. If you can’t vote, your input into the political process is restricted. The broader our society’s rules for preventing people from voting are, the larger will be the bloc of people who feel powerless compared to the rest.

Most states bar people who have been convicted of a felony from voting. (Some recent statistics are mentioned here.) This spring, some bills have been introduced that would restore people’s right to vote in a federal election after a criminal conviction. (Although Congress can’t directly make states change their rules on who can vote in a state election, these bills do propose making acceptance of these proposals a condition for federal grant money for prison facilities.)

The Senate bill S.457, titled the “Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act of 2015,” would restore the right to vote in a federal election for those convicted of non-violent offenses after they have completed their term of incarceration and (if they have any probation) at least a year of probation.

Another pair of similar bills, H.R.1459 in the House and S.772 in the Senate (these two bills are identical to each other), titled the “Democracy Restoration Act of 2015,” are more liberal in that they restore the right to vote in a federal election regardless of what sort of crime they were convicted of and whether those convicted have any probation; they only exclude those who are, at the time of the election, incarcerated for a felony offense.

Another bill that would help people with a criminal record to be re-integrated into society is the “Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act of 2015” or the “REDEEM Act” (S.675). As the title suggests, much of the bill provides for some of one’s record to be sealed so that one could treat it as if it never happened. We wrote a blog post last year about the main reforms this bill would enact if it became law, and this year’s version makes relatively few tweaks last year’s version of the bill. The most significant change from last year is that the requirements for remaining eligible for TANF and SNAP benefits are a bit more stringent, although still reasonable.

Unfortunately, all you’ve read so far is just talk. All these bills have a very slim chance of passage. Versions of all these bills were introduced in the last session of Congress and were not passed. In practice, Congress has other priorities than getting a committee to even look at these bills. The simple fact is that most bills that are proposed do not get enacted.

Nevertheless, stay tuned for any updates.


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