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Nation’s Largest Jail System To Host Voter Registration Event For ‘Justice-Involved’ Inmates

By  Jeffrey Cawood

Los Angeles County officials have organized a special event on Tuesday, National Voter Registration Day, targeting eligible inmates inside a downtown jail. It’s part of a government-ordered effort “to register as many justice-involved County residents as possible in advance of the November 2018 election.”

County agencies leading a “voter engagement task force” have been working with the ACLU, anti-incarceration groups, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which operates seven custody centers that make up the nation’s largest jail system. The campaign, called “L.A. Free the Vote,” was created “to strategize and guide voter registration efforts for justice-involved residents.”

Tuesday’s event will take place at Men’s Central Jail. Plans are underway to register more inmates at Twin Towers Correctional Facility, located across the street, in the coming weeks.

“The November election is fast approaching, and we can’t afford to miss the opportunity to engage all residents in the work of building and advancing democracy,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents a district of more than two million people. “The work and importance of this initiative will go well beyond this November election, and it should.”

The L.A. County jail population is around 18,000, but not all of the inmates held captive are eligible to vote. “Justice-involved” individuals also include formerly incarcerated people who have successfully completed their term of parole.

NBC 4 Los Angeles recently reported:

California residents who are U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old are eligible to vote by mail from jail if they are awaiting trial on any charge or convicted of a misdemeanor. Probationers are also eligible to vote, whether in or out of jail.

Inmates in state prison for a felony conviction or on parole from prison are not eligible to vote, including those in county jail on a parole violation or awaiting transfer to prison. But when they are released from jail and complete their parole, convicted felons may re-register to vote.

Those deemed mentally incompetent are disqualified from registering.

Even before politicians passed a motion establishing the task force two months ago, election officials had already been registering inmates locked up in county jails. The latest plan builds on an existing county initiative and works in tandem with another ACLU-sponsored drive to ensure eligible persons detained in L.A. County can still exercise their right to vote.

“Ahead of the 2018 primary, we registered more than 2,000 inmates,” said Dean Logan, L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. “Heading into the general election, we’ve already registered 1,000.”

Logan presented a task force status update before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors last week. He outlined an agenda to continue engaging “justice-involved” populations. The collaborative effort includes the Chief Probation Officer and the Public Defender’s Office. An activist group called A New Way of Life (ANWOL) is also a key component. According to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, that organization represents “community stakeholders.”

ANWOL receives funding from deep-pocketed grant-making institutions known to back criminal justice reform drives, such as the California Endowment and Ford Foundation, along with financing that trickles down from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (via organizations like Californians for Safety and Justice and the Drug Policy Alliance).

“People who are eligible to vote need information but they also need meaningful access to the ballot,” said Susan Burton, founder of ANWOL, who was once awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship.

Acocrding to one county official, the Sheriff’s Department and the ACLU are about to launch a civic engagement course for inmates.

In California, the deadline to register for the 2018 general election is October 22.

Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.

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