Voters in Florida, Ohio, and Washington will vote on criminal justice reform this November. Proposed ballot measures include an expansion of voting rights for persons with felony convictions, sentencing reform, and addressing police use of force standards. Ballot measures require substantial resources and they can strengthen an advocacy infrastructure like effective state coalitions, cultivate lists of civically engaged supporters, and animate cohorts of new advocates motivated to challenge mass incarceration.
Florida Expanding the Vote
Voters get the opportunity to expand voting rights to up to 1.4 million Floridians. Amendment 4 would automatically restore voting rights to persons with felony convictions who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution; persons convicted of murder and sex offenses are excluded. Earlier this year, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition gathered more than 766,000 signatures to put the amendment on the November ballot. Community organizers and policy advocates have engaged in a range of strategies and tactics ranging from strategic communications, town halls, and canvassing. Amplifying support for the ballot measure has allowed state advocates to reinforce connections with national faith, labor, civil rights and formerly incarcerated-led groups that have held phone banks and supported get out the vote efforts. Earlier this year, campaign organizers held a day of action and contacted 80,000 Florida voters. Amendment 4 is polling above 70 percent for likely voters.
Ohio Supporting Safe and Healthy Communities
Ohio Issue 1 would change the state’s constitution to scale back drug penalties and prioritize savings to expand community-based treatment. Supporters include the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and the Ohio Education Association. The Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities Campaign submitted 730,031 signatures; 305,591 valid signatures of registered voters were needed. State Issue 1 supporters recently debated opponents to highlight policy arguments supporting sentencing reform and expanding community-based alternatives to incarceration.
Washington Addressing Police Use of Force Standards
De-Escalate Washington is anchoring a coalition in support of Initiative Measure No. 940. This measure requires all law enforcement officers to receive violence de-escalation and mental health training, as developed by the state’s criminal justice training commission. The measure also amends the standard for justifiable use of deadly force by law enforcement by adding a “good faith” standard and requiring independent investigations. The coalition successfully gathered 360,000 signatures to include the measure on the ballot. The strength of community support led to a legislative compromise supported by law enforcement. However, a lawsuit by an anti-initiative activist asserted the Legislature’s move was unconstitutional forcing the I-940 amendment on the November ballot. Campaign organizers are actively working to pass the ballot measure and the initiative has animated popular support for accountability efforts.
- California – Gov. Jerry Brown commuted prison terms for eighteen persons sentenced to life without parole.
- Oklahoma – A bipartisan coalition launched a commutation campaign for offenses that no longer impose severe punishment.
- Michigan – American Friends Services Committee published the report Ending Perpetual Punishment which highlights the stories of 10 individuals sentenced to serve life or virtual life sentences in Michigan.
- New York – The Parole Preparation Project and Release Aging People in Prison published New York State Parole Board: Failures in Staffing and Performance to urge Gov. Cuomo to overhaul the state’s parole board.
- Pennsylvania – Lawmakers convened a joint legislative hearing to discuss SB 942. The legislation authorizes parole after 15 years for persons sentenced to life without parole sentences. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced his support for the legislation.
- Texas – Grassroots Leadership, Texas Inmates Family Association, Austin Justice Coalition, and Just Liberty organized Rise Up: A Rally for Criminal Justice Reform.
Photo Credit: Robert Williams