New York state legislators are considering a bill (S1931) that would automatically restore voting rights for residents who have been released from prison on parole.
This change would be a sensible addition to the state’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Citizens who are rejoining society after release from prison should be encouraged to participate in the civic life of their communities.
People convicted of a crime face many hurdles in their efforts to rebuild their lives. Some of the legal restrictions are logical responses to their offenses. For example, those convicted of a felony are banned from possessing a firearm or serving on a jury. Drug dealers are denied a passport. Those guilty of child abuse or neglect are disqualified from adopting a child or serving as a foster parent. Occupational licensure may be restricted when there is a direct relationship between the conviction and the license sought.
It’s hard to see what purpose is served by denying voting rights to people who are re-entering society under the supervision of the parole system. The ability to vote encourages such people to pay attention to how their community is represented in the halls of government. That is just the sort of civic commitment we should be asking of those who have served time in prison for a criminal offense.
Rob Abbot, Croton
Editor’s note: The bill, which has been introduced in every session since 2009, has been referred to committee in both the Assembly and Senate.