“We need a criminal legal system that is grounded in rehabilitation.”
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth are considering legislation to restore voting rights for people incarcerated on felony convictions.
Kristina Mensik, organizer with the Democracy Behind Bars Coalition, said voting allows incarcerated people to maintain important social connections.
“A lot of the people we work with,” said Mensik, “are parents who want to vote on their kids’ school committee.”
Mensik said ensuring incarcerated people can vote also improves recidivism rates. She said an estimated 7,000 – 9,000 people in the Commonwealth could have their voting rights restored.
The current voting legislation builds on the Votes Act – which was signed into law last year by former-Gov. Charlie Baker, and which included provisions meant to improve ballot access for eligible incarcerated voters.
Mensik said there is growing public understanding of the impact of voting restrictions and incarceration, particularly on Black and Hispanic communities.
“We need a criminal legal system that is grounded in rehabilitation,” said Mensik, “and not just focused on continuing to lock people up at higher and higher rates.”
If approved by lawmakers and the voters, Massachusetts would join Maine and Vermont as the only states with zero restrictions on voting while incarcerated – but that could change. At least 14 states have introduced bills this year aimed at restoring voting rights.
Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.