We must act as if our institutions are ours to create, our learning is ours to define, our leadership we seek is ours to become.
- Peter Block
All voices are important in a democracy.
At Fair Shake, we take citizenship very seriously. We recognize the inherent value of all people and advocate for including our incarcerated citizens in our democratic process. Currently, of those incarcerated with felonies, only residents of Maine, Vermont and Washington, DC are able to vote, but it’s crucial to include the voices of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in the policies and practices of our justice system, education system, health care, and all aspects of the way we govern ourselves. Increasing voting opportunities in our prisons can ripple out to reach more citizens, too…including our young future-voters!
Active citizens change laws. If we’re serious about reform, this is an important area to focus our attention. Feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments and suggestions! sue(at)fairshake(dot)net.
“Incarcerated persons: If you are incarcerated in a correctional facility or in a county jail, you are entitled to register to vote in the Maine municipality where you previously established residency (a fixed and principal home to which you intend to return) prior to incarceration.”
Vermont Incarcerated Voter Information
“Pursuant to Vermont state law, individuals convicted of a crime shall retain their right to vote by absentee ballot in a primary or general election during the term of their confinement, provided the individual meets all other voting requirements.”
1015 Half Street, SE, Suite 750
Washington, DC 20003
Tel: (202) 727-2525
“If you are incarcerated, regardless of the offense, you are able to vote. If you are under court supervision or residing at a halfway house after release, you are able to vote.”
National Conference of State Legislatures
State approaches to disenfranchisement vary tremendously. Visit this website for current information about voter rights and restoration.
The Sentencing Project Despite the fact that most persons detained in jail are eligible to vote, very few actually do. To learn about ways that you can engage in your area, check out this informative page.
We have many options to participate in our governance and community development. Voting is just one way that we attend to the ownership of our powerful nation.
Our representatives may need to be reminded that they are working for us – the citizens – and not the folks who donate the most money to their campaign. It’s important to stay connected to them, but we do not have to wait for them to bring about the change we wish to see; we can get started where we are, with what we have, right now.
Fair Shake was created in 2009 because I could not wait for Corrections, or my representatives, to better prepare our fellow citizens for release from prison. “Experts” and entertainers have been telling us ‘what works’ for more than 30 years – yet the recidivism rate is not going down. In fact, more than 4 out of every 5 people who come home will go back! (BJS 2021) We have all the evidence that we need to see that Corrections presents a high risk to our society.
As citizens in a democracy, we do not have to accept this.
Yes, people are working on policies and yes, people are chipping away at ‘reform’….but, as R. Buckminster Fuller so clearly stated:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Are you tired of waiting, too? Let’s build the new model together!
We can shut down the prisons by blocking the revolving door. If we can just make sure folks coming home have what they need to succeed, we will circumvent the failures of our institutions by taking action.
We have the power.
We can’t pass the buck; we have to get our hands dirty and do this work ourselves. We can improving hiring practices where we work, we can volunteer to be a mentor, we can participate in reentry circles of support, we can be a penpal and send information to help folks get ready for release, we can help folks learn to use phones and computers after release, and we can take action to introduce voting in the prisons in our state! This is just the beginning!
When people have what they need to stay out of prison – physically and psychologically – we will finally watch the prisons fade into stories in our history books.
What are we waiting for? Let’s get to work!