|By: Danyel Jones
Assistant Director of Admissions
President Barack Obama will hit Rutgers University-Newark today to host a round table meeting at the schools’ Center for Law & Justice, with Senator Cory Booker and Newark, New Jersey Mayor Ras Baraka.
At the center of discussion will be the need for reform in the criminal justice system. It is a good look for Senator Cory Booker and presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders because they recently introduced the Democracy Restoration Act.
The issue with mass incarceration rates in America continues to be debated by the Presidential candidates as the 2016 elections come upon us.
The bill aims to strengthen American communities by reducing repeat criminal offender rates by restoring voting rights to individuals after they have served their time and have been released from incarceration.
Senator Booker and Senator Sanders were supported by Ben Cardin and Minority Leader Harry Reid, as well as U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Barbara A. Mikulski, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand and other ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Section 722 of the Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights in federal elections to millions of former inmates who now live in neighborhoods across the nation.
Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia restore voting rights upon release from prison.
However, 35 states restrict the voting rights of people who have been released from jail or prison.
At the moment, 11 U.S. states can revoke an ex-convict’s right to vote for a lifetime. Some states even deny the right to vote to individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors.
Former Virginia State Trooper, Chris R. Francis spoke to CollegeHipHop.com about the bill and restoring voting rights for ex-cons. In his home state, felons are banned from voting for life, unless they received a pardon from the governor.
“With voting comes an ownership,” Trooper Chris R. Francis told CollegeHipHop.com. “If I vote for someone or something, I have a stake or stock in the outcome of my choice. If the official [voted on by myself] is making poor or detrimental decisions or actions I feel more obligated to voice my opinion of dissatisfaction. Hypothetically speaking, with the restoration of voting rights we could see the potential for more community ownership from former violators and the restored faith in the government.”
Senator Booker believes that voting rights for ex-convicts will lead to positive change in American communities. It is an issue Booker worked on when he was mayor of Newark New Jersey and continued as an offical in Washington DC.
“If we expect to live up to our national ideals of liberty and justice for all, we must ensure that our democratic process is as consistent and fair as possible,” Senator Booker said. “It’s not fair to deny the constitutionally-protected right to vote to people who have paid their debt to society. By reinstating voting rights for those who have been rehabilitated, we can empower people to become better citizens, reduce recidivism rates, and improve not only the health of our democracy but of our communities.”
The Democracy Restoration Act is endorsed by a large coalition of civil rights leaders and reformists, religious and faith-based groups and law enforcement and criminal justice organizations.
Former Trooper Francis believes that equal job opportunities for former inmates should be a major focus for Congress. However, after these opportunities have been granted, the power of accountability is on the rehabilitated person.
“If a person does not have the opportunity for gainful employment, they are truly not going to concern themselves with voting or much else for that matter,” said Trooper Francis. “I’m sure the case can be made of both voting rights and employment opportunities for ex-cons but the choice to accept those rights and opportunities lies with the individual.”
The Democracy Restoration Act has been Referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. Check out this link to watch the roundtable live.
Danyel Jones is Assistant Director of Admissions at Argosy University. Ms. Jones holds a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership