Report: 'Unlock the Vote' at U.S. Jails Shows Progress, Obstacles
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Every election, thousands of people are disenfranchised from voting because they are incarcerated. But Houston's Harris County Jail has shown the two are not mutually exclusive.
In 2021 a polling place was available at the jail for the first time.
Maj. Phillip Bosquez, of the Justice Housing Bureau for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, said many of those incarcerated are pretrial detainees and not serving a sentence for a felony conviction, making them eligible to vote. He assumed implementation would be daunting, but acknowledged he was proved wrong.
"Logistically in a system this size, the third largest in the country, it wasn't as hard as we thought," Bosquez recounted. "We got it accomplished, and we've had four elections, and we're set up for the big election coming in November."
Researchers with the Sentencing Project have found the vast majority of those incarcerated are eligible to vote but face significant barriers.
In the past 25 years, half the states have expanded voting access to people with felony convictions. Opponents argued felons should not be allowed to vote while incarcerated because they say voting is a privilege, not an absolute right of citizenship.
Durrel Douglas, founder of the Houston Justice Coalition and jail-based Voting Initiative organizer for The Sentencing Project, was instrumental in bringing voting to the city's jail. He said just 13 of the 26 people eligible cast an in-person ballot for this year's primary, and while it is a small number, he believes it is a right to be protected, and noted minority communities are primarily affected.
"When we think of who's typically behind bars, it's disproportionately Black people and brown people," Douglas pointed out. "Expanding this access to those who otherwise wouldn't have access to the ballot is huge when it comes to expanding access to democracy."
Douglas believes jails could and even should serve as voting locations in all states.
"There are high concentrations of people that are in jails every day," Douglas emphasized. "Some 549,000 people on any given day that don't have access to the ballot, just because they're in jail."
In addition to Houston, jails in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., also have introduced polling places for those incarcerated on Election Day.
get more stories like this via email
The coalition known as "Think Babies Michigan" has secured more than $36 million in funding to offer grants to child-care providers for infants and to…
Nearly 100 school board elections are coming up in Minnesota this fall, with some gaining attention because of the candidates who are running…
The so-called conservative "hostile takeover" of a small, progressive liberal arts college in Florida is seeing some resistance from former students …
High rent prices are draining the budgets of many Nebraska renters, who are paying between 30% and 50% of their income on rent. In some parts of the …
As the federal government nears a shutdown over a budget impasse in Congress, Wisconsin offices that help low-income individuals worry they'll have …
Indigenous leaders are traveling through the Northwest to highlight the plight of dwindling fish populations in the region. The All Our Relations …
Washington performs well in a new report scoring states' long-term care systems. The Evergreen State ranked second in AARP's Long-Term Services and …
A lack of housing options, mental-health challenges and a lack of connections and support have combined to drive an uptick in the number of foster …