Should people in jail regain their right to vote? Illinois lawmakers are considering it.


Lenard Hudson, 19, was addicted and functionally illiterate, went to jail in 1983, and waited for the murder of a 71-year-old man who stabbed 60 times before burning his Chicago apartment.

The heart of a teenager staring at the death sentence that killed Volk Peterson was far from the right of Americans to vote.

However, when trapped, Hudson taught himself to read and write, became the inner voice of the right to vote, and became a minister, educator, and founder of the prison newspaper. Hudson never claimed to be innocent.

“To be honest, I was facing death because I was guilty,” said Hudson, who was granted an executive amnesty by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker in 2020.

Currently, as Director of Education for the Illinois Prison Project, a prisoner’s advocacy group, Hudson is promoting the first Illinois law in the United States. They lost the conviction, allowing those in prison in the state to regain their voting rights.

Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia will not be convicted and deprive people of their rights, but allow imprisoned people to regain their ability to cast ballots while convicting. No other state has it. To the sentence project.

Voting Rights Act: Voting activists encourage speaking the language of all voters. Not necessarily in English.

In Illinois, according to the Prison Policy Institute, people in prisons awaiting trial have been able to vote since 2019, affecting about 175,000 people annually. However, Senate Bill 828, which misses the April 8 deadline, will go a step further and regain voting rights for those convicted and in prison.

Proponents of the Illinois bill allow imprisoned people (about 95% of whom leave and return) to invest in their communities, families, schools, and other important issues while in prison. It states that it is.

“If you really want to deal with personal corrections, I’d like to introduce them to responsible actions like voting,” said La Shawn Ford, a member of the Chicago Democratic Party’s Illinois Congress who submitted the bill. “Imagine they can talk to their families about elections … these are conversations I believe will lead to reintegration and help reduce recidivism.”

“When you make that investment, you start protecting the community,” he said.

American Police: Nearly 60 years after the Voting Rights Act, some voter protection is still weakening.

Who will benefit from prison voting?

Ami Gandhi, senior adviser to the Chicago Civil Rights Commission, who supports the bill, said historically that a law that deprives people convicted of serious crimes “is clear to curb black votes. It played a racist function. “

“In addition to Jim Crow laws such as literacy tests and poll taxes, felony deprivation laws have limited the political power of blacks in different parts of the country,” she said.

After the Civil War and the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, Gandhi began to impose specific voting laws on blacks for disproportionately executed and prosecuted crimes in some states, “blacks. Strengthen the myth of inferiority and criminality. “

If the Illinois bill is enacted, a disproportionate number of blacks will be affected.

In recent Illinois prisons total, more than 27,000 people have regained the right to vote in prisons, of which about 54% are black, accounting for less than 15% of the state’s population. Whites, who make up about 77% of Illinois’ population, make up about 32% of the people in state prisons. Men make up 95% of all prisons.

New Focus on Voting Rights: What happened in 2021 and where are the suggestions now?

Proponents, meanwhile, want other states to follow Illinois’ leadership in this bill. As other states did after the voting rights bill for people in state prisons was passed in 2019.Approximately 1.2 million people have been imprisoned in U.S. states and federal prisons, Justice Department Report — Less than 1% of approximately 168.3 million American voters.

Earlier this year, Oregon sought to pass a bill similar to the one in Illinois. This allowed more than 12,000 imprisoned people to vote. But it failed.

According to the National Assembly of Parliament, those convicted of felony will regain voting rights when prisons are released in 20 states. Most of the other 17 will be returned shortly after completing parole or probation. However, after being convicted in 11 states, many convicted of felony have permanently lost their rights.

The National Assembly has been convicted of parole in the blue states of California, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Washington, even though critics say some red states have moved to limit voting access. We have found that an increase in the votes of those who have received it has been found. All passed legislation that allows parolees to regain their right to vote.

In February 2021, Pritzker signed a bill to outlaw the practice of “prison gerrymandering”, making it the tenth state in the country to do so. Under the law, people in state prisons are listed as residents of their home address.

Senate Bill 828 strengthens this and influences the 2030 US Census and thus the creation of voting maps.

“In Illinois, imprisoned groups are counted for political advantage in the areas where prisons are located, but for democracy,” said Katrina Fid, a non-profit Chicago poll. We take into account the fact that we do not have the right to speak. “

Texas: Governor Greg Abbott Signs More Restrictive Voting Bill

Florida: A federal judge said he would withdraw some of Florida’s new election law and suppress black voters.

Constitutionality of the bill in question

There was opposition to Senate Bill 828. Louisville Republican Senator Darren Bailey, who is running for governor, called the bill a slap against survivors and victims of violent crime.

“Regaining voting rights for convicted criminals in prison is another example of prioritizing criminals over state-wide law enforcement agencies and working families (State Democrats).” Bailey told USA Today. “We owe it to the victim’s family to ensure that there is justice when the crime is committed. I understand the intent behind this law, but it is fair to the victim. Not. “

The Illinois Republicans did not immediately return a request for comment.

Zack Smith, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, DC, said the law was “certainly out of the mainstream.”

“It’s important to remember that individuals … are in jail for the choices they made. They chose to break the law and break contracts with society,” he said.

Smith, a former federal prosecutor in Florida, added: Not only is it constitutionally acceptable (losing voting rights), but I think it is perfectly appropriate. “

Earlier this year: Senate Democrats Can’t Proceed with Legislation of Voting Rights and Changes to Filibuster

The Illinois Election Commission, which is divided into Republicans and Democrats, has opposed the bill because it interprets the state constitution as prohibiting people imprisoned during state detention from voting.

The Illinois Constitution, in part, states:

Advocates and their lawyers claim that the word “at the latest” opens the door to new law.

However, when considered last year, the board was less confident and voted 8-0 to oppose the change.

The bill fell three votes shyly at the Illinois Capitol last year.

“Timing is everything,” Ford said. “We were short (last year) because there were no people who were willing to vote on the bill.”

If this year’s bill isn’t passed by the weekend, it will move to a veto session, and state legislators could pick up the bill proposed during the shortened session, perhaps in early November, Ford said.

The meeting rooms of both the Governor of Illinois and the General Assembly are in the hands of democracy. Given that, Ford believes the bill has a good shot to make it this year.

The Illinois Republicans did not immediately return a request for comment.

“I was equally responsible for those who needed to educate themselves.”

Hudson grew up in one of Chicago’s poor South Side districts. He is the son of a maintenance man in the building where Hudson and his victims lived. According to court and prosecution documents, Hudson, who smoked a cocaine-contaminated joint, was trying to raise money for this addiction when he disguised himself as a handyman to enter Peterson’s apartment.

He was convicted of a crime in 1983. During the eight hours of torture and murder, Hudson repeatedly stabbed a retired carpenter, demanding cash and belongings.

Lenard Hudson

Lenard Hudson

Today, 58-year-old Hudson hasn’t denied anything. It was his act and his responsibility, he told USA Today. And he believes he deserves everything that was subsequently thrown, including being sentenced to death.

“I believe in accountability and responsibility,” Hudson said. “Mr. Peterson is always in my head.”

“I feel free”: Chicago teenager involved in 1985 murder is 3,000th immunity in the United States

“We can’t expect all the roses to be thrown in front of us,” Hudson said while striving to change the story of life.

Hudson’s death sentence was wiped out in 2003 when then-Governor of Illinois George Ryan reduced all death sentences in the state. He regained his voting rights in 2020 when he was released.

But during the 37 years in prison, Hudson began to realize that voting did not only affect those who enjoy freedom outside. It also affects men and women (nearly 60% of whom are mothers) who are imprisoned and working on issues such as staffing, teaching materials, medical and hygiene products. All, really, Hudson said.

He said he learned how to use his voice while educating himself.

“Voting plays a major role in policies governing spaces that have been accused of being so numerous,” he said, especially during a pandemic. Vote. ‘”

Eric Ferkenhoff is a Midwestern Criminal Justice Reporter for the USAToday Network. Find him on Twitter @EricFerk

more: They’re out of jail, but they’re still fighting to prove their innocence: “I feel like I’m not free.”

This article was originally published in USA TODAY: Voting Rights: Should Inmates Vote?Illinois can pave the way

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