Comment: Voting critical right for those who have left prison

Research has shown voting increases connection with community, reducing the risk of recidivism.

By Danielle Armbruster / For The Herald

As assistant secretary for the Reentry Division within the Washington State Department of Corrections, I have the unique honor of seeing individuals every day successfully reenter their communities after releasing from prison. My goal is to make sure that each releasing individual has the guidance, support and resources to transition successfully into a stable community environment. The people I work with are adapting to community life by finding housing, working jobs, paying taxes and contributing to their communities, like any citizen of our state.

Our hope is that each individual returning to their community will work to fundamentally change their life for the better and never reenter the prison system. Reducing the number of people returning to prison not only makes our neighborhoods safer, but also means that individuals are successfully transitioning home in the community. As a society, we all win when the people who are often most affected by the inequities of our society are able to move forward and become a contributing member of their community.

We know that when people feel connected to and engaged in their communities, they are less likely to return to prison. However, today, over 20,000 of our families, friends and neighbors on community supervision are not allowed to vote, an exercise that can empower a citizen to take interest in their community and the environment around them. Under current law, some people may lose this fundamental right for years and some may even lose it for the rest of their lives. Silencing our community members’ voices puts up an unnecessary and unacceptable barrier to their reentry and further undermines our democracy.

However, our state can right this wrong in 2021. The Washington state House took the incredible first step by passing House Bill 1078 in February, which would automatically restore voting rights to every citizen upon release from prison. Now, our State Senate must do the same.

We know that alienation caused by disenfranchisement does not help individuals return to their communities successfully. In fact, research shows that when individuals have a voice in their communities through voting, they are much less likely to return to the system. If the goal of our criminal legal system is to make our neighborhoods and communities safer and ensure people return to a law-abiding path, we should be encouraging this common civic engagement rather than restricting it. Furthermore, since our prison populations are impacted by the results of elections and are included in the census counts that help allocate funding, people who have successfully reentered their neighborhoods should have a say in how these funds are being used in their communities.

Restoring voting rights to every citizen in the community would also address the inequities that are amplified by the current policy. Although Black and Indigenous people only make up 6 percent of our state’s total population, they comprise more than 16 percent of the community supervised population. Allowing community members to vote while on community supervision will empower these underrepresented voices who are disproportionately silenced by the current law.

By passing House Bill 1078, our State Senate could improve the long-term success of our criminal legal system and return dignity and an opportunity for engagement to our families, friends, and neighbors. We at the Department of Corrections urge our Senators to make the right decision for our democracy and for the more than 25,000 Washingtonians who are seeking a political voice.

Danielle Armbruster is assistant secretary of the Reentry Division of the Washington State Department of Corrections.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

RGB version
Editorial cartoons for Thursday, Feb. 22

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Jaime Benedict, who works as a substitute teacher, waves to drivers on the corner of Mukilteo Speedway and Harbor Pointe Boulevard while holding a sign in support of the $240 million capital bond proposal for Mukilteo School District on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 in Mukilteo, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Bar set unfairly high for passage of school bonds

Requiring 60 percent approval denies too many students the schools and facilities they deserve.

Comment: Presidential primary launches state’s election season

With ballots in the mail, here’s what to know and how to prepare for making your choice for U.S. president.

Keep Clark Park gazebo; it holds memories for many

Just want to put my two cents in about the removal of… Continue reading

Focus more effort on preventing opioid addiction

A recent Herald editorial cited a report from U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen’s… Continue reading

Navalny’s death loss for Russia, world

The world was informed recently that Alexei Navalny died in a Russian… Continue reading

Comment: Primaries offers chance to judge vote-by-mail’s success

So far, state caucuses and primaries have seen low turnout. Will mailed ballots see higher participation?

A leasing sign in visible outside of A’cappella Apartment Homes on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Cap on rent can keep more people in their homes

The legislation balances affordability with the need to encourage growth in the stock of housing.

Election signs line a section of Mukilteo Blvd. in Everett. (Sue Misao / Everett Herald)
Editorial: Switch of local elections may be premature

Adding local elections to even-year ballots could boost participation but election officials have concerns.

"Law & Order" cast members (from left) S. Epatha Merkerson, Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson are shown with episode director Marisol Torres on the show's set in New York, in April 2008. (Bernadette Tuazon / Associated Press file photo)
Editorial: Leave the interrogation ruses to the TV cop shows

A House bill would limit the use of deceptive interrogations that have resulted in wrongful convictions.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, Feb. 21

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Comment: Fraud decision will do real damage to Trump’s empire

A “complete lack of contrition and remorse” will cost Trump $500 million and control of his business.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.