AOUON N.C. Organizer, Comrade Brian Rashad Wiley Killed

All of Us or None is sad to share that AOUON North Carolina Organizer Brian “BDubb” Wiley was killed in Durham, N.C. on Sunday, July 15, 2018. Brother Wiley passed a year after fellow AOUON NC Organizer Umar Muhammad was killed in a traffic accident.

AOUON NC Organizers Brian “BDubb” Wiley, Andraé “Muffin” Hudson, and Umar Muhammad tabling at a community event in Durham, N.C.

LSPC Executive Director and AOUON co-founder Dorsey Nunn:

We should have the expectation that we can survive freedom more than we can survive prison. 

It’s troubling to me that we lost two organizers in North Carolina in a year. 
It’s troubling to me to look a picture of people doing tabling for All of Us or None, and two of the three people have died. 
And both were under the age of 35. 

For some people, AOUON is where you can register your objection to how you’ve been treated. An opportunity to turn a bad experience into good. Brian Wiley and Umar Muhammad were trying to make a demand for justice, and they died before we could achieve it for them.
Brian died almost a year to the day Umar died.

Sometimes I think God has an odd sense of humor. Us older organizers are training youth leaders to carry on the movement, yet some of youngsters are gone and we’re still getting older. So we might have a plan, but God might have a different one. It’s hard. 

All of Us or None contributed towards Brian’s funeral expenses. And we’ll continue to train and support organizers across the country. Because we have to. We have to take up the work left unfinished by those who pass before their time. We have to change the expectation from “We won’t make it past 35” to “We will live beyond 50.” We have heavy hearts, but Brian, Umar, and all who have gone on before had high expectations. And so we must continue the fight for our civil and human rights for ourselves, for our family members, and our communities.

A memorial fund has been set up to help the family in this time of tragedy.
Rest in Power, Comrade.

Policy Update! 09-20-2019

As we near the end of the 2019 Legislative cycle, we are excited that several of our co-sponsored bills have made it through the Legislature and await the Governor’s signature. These bills represent work from many LSPC staff members, All of Us or None organizers and community members, and all of our coalition partners.  

Those bills are: 

AB 942 (Weber)  CalFresh Meals Program. This bill would extend the ability to use food stamps for hot meals at supermarkets. Passed out of Assembly 72-0 in May, 2019. Passed out of the Senate 78-0 on September 10, 2019. Now awaiting the Governor’s signature. Call Governor Newsom 916.445.2841 and ask him to sign AB 942! 

AB 1282 (Kalra) – No private ICE. This bill would prohibit ICE from using private contractors to detain and transfer people from prisons following the completion of their sentences. The bill passed the Assembly 59-15 in May. Amended and passed the Senate 29-10 on September 5. Assembly voted 61-16 concurrence to Senate amendments September 9. Now awaiting the Governor’s signature. Call Governor Newsom 916.445.2841 and ask him to sign AB 1282! 

ACA 6 (McCarty) – Restore voting rights to Californians on parole. Our last minute advocacy & calling legislators got ACA 6 passed with just the necessary 54 votes! 

ACA 6 now has to repeat the process in the Senate, moving through the committees and to another Floor Vote. Contact your CA Senator and tell them you support ACA 6 and want to restore voting rights for 50,000 Californians on parole! 

SB 136 (Wiener) – Ending Ineffective 1-Year Sentencing Enhancements. By the skin of its teeth, passed the Senate Floor vote 21-11 in May. Amended and just barely passed the Assembly Floor Vote 41-37 on September 11, 2019.  The bill eliminates the 1-year mandatory sentencing enhancement for priors except for “sexually violent offense” priors. 

SB 144 (Mitchell) – Eliminate Imposition & Collection of Most Court Fees. This bill has become a 2-year bill, as we wait for courts and counties to share with us how eliminating the court fees would fiscally impact them. They have yet to respond, probably because there is no fiscal impact since they often spend more trying to collect from low-income Californians than they bring in. We look forward to continuing the fight to eliminate oppressive court fees again in January! 

SB 310 (Skinner) – Jury Service. The bill, which would restore the right of jury service to people with felony convictions, was amended to exclude people currently on parole or on the sex offenders registry. Received a 47-26 vote on the Assembly Floor on September 9, and then a Senate concurrence vote of 29-10 on September 11. Call Governor Newsom 916.445.2841 and ask him to sign SB 310! 

Other legislation of interest includes: 

AB 32 (Bonta) – Ban CA Private Prison Contracts. Prohibits new or renewal contracts between CDCR and private prison companies, including ICE detention centers. As many current contracts are on 1-year “bridge” contracts, the bill effectively ends private prisons and ICE detention prisons in CA after 2020. People currently incarcerated in ICE detention prisons will probably be transferred to county jails with ICE contracts, until those contracts are also banned. 

AB 45 (Stone) – Prison Co-Pays. Ends the co-pays people incarcerated in prison must pay to access medical treatment. Currently people incarcerated in CDCR prisons must pay a $5 co-pay to access medical treatment. 

AB 484 (Jones-Sawyer) – Eliminate Mandatory Confinement during Probation. This bill would, for certain drug convictions, give judges granting probation the discretion to impose the current 180-day confinement condition mandatory with current convictions. 

AB 1076 (Ting) – Automatic Relief. Will automatically seal arrest/conviction records for certain low-level offenses after diversion program. 

ACR 91 (Jones-Sawyer) – Second Chances Month. This measure designates June 2019 as Second Chances Month in California, highlighting existing services and events to support reentry from incarceration. 

SB 42 (Skinner) – Getting Home Safe Act. Requires sheriffs to release people from county jails between 8 A.M. and 5 P.M. or at sundown (whichever is later), as well as track the time and number of people released. Will end the practice of releasing people at midnight with no public transportation available. 

SB 394 (Skinner) – Diversion for Primary Caregivers of Minor Children. Creates a pretrial diversion program for defendants who are primary caregivers of a child under 18 years of age, as specified, and who are charged with a misdemeanor or a nonserious, nonviolent felony. 

SB 575 (Bradford) – Cal Grants for Students Incarcerated in Prison. Will allow students currently incarcerated to be eligible to receive a Cal Grant award. 

Thank all of you for your tireless efforts and support for all of our legislation. Stay tuned for updates on our website as well. For more information, contact Policy Fellow Katie Dixon: 

PR: SF County Jails to start free phone calls!


San Francisco will become the first county in the nation to stop generating revenue from incarcerated people and their families, lifting an economic burden from low-income communities, boosting connection to support networks, and easing re-entry

Aminah Elster, LSPC Family Unity Project Coordinator
415.361.4606 /

San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy today announced that San Francisco will become the first county in the nation to make all phone calls from jail free and end all county markups on jail store items. The plan is funded in the Mayor’s recently announced budget and the Sheriff’s Department will implement these reforms over the next fiscal year.

“This change is an important continuation of our efforts to reform fines and fees that disproportionately impact low-income people and communities of color. When people are in jail they should be able to remain connected to their family without being concerned about how much it will cost them or their loved ones,” said Mayor Breed. “Incarcerated individuals should be able to purchase items from the jail commissary without having to pay extra for even the most basic goods.”

“When I assumed office in 2016, we reduced the cost of phone calls for people in jail to one of the lowest levels in the State,” said Sheriff Hennessy. “Since then, we’ve been studying how we can remove financial barriers to reentry for people in jail, working with the San Francisco Financial Justice Project in the Treasurer’s Office, criminal justice advocates, and the Mayor’s Office. Thanks to our collaboration, commitment, and mutual compassion for others, the Sheriff’s Department will phase in free phone calls for everyone in San Francisco county jails and end county commissary markups over the next fiscal year.”

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has been a leader in reducing call costs and San Francisco has among the lowest calling rates in the region. According to Prison Policy Initiative, the average cost of a 15-minute, in-state phone call from a San Francisco county jail is $2.10, significantly lower than the statewide average of $5.70. Approximately 50% of calls are currently free from San Francisco County jails, either because they are to an attorney or originate from the intake facility where people are first booked.

Marking up prices for phone calls and commissary items is a common practice in jails and prisons across the country, but San Francisco now joins a growing number of cities, counties and states that are working to eliminate these costs, including New York City.

High phone call costs and an average county markup of 43% on items from the jail commissary place an economic burden on incarcerated people and their families. If an incarcerated person makes two 15-minute phone calls a day in San Francisco, it will cost $300 over 70 days, which is the average jail stay, or $1,500 over the course of the year.

Analysis done by the San Francisco Financial Justice Project in the Office of City Treasurer José Cisneros estimates that 80% of phone calls are paid for by incarcerated individuals’ support networks, primarily low-income women of color. In a national survey of incarcerated people and their families, the cost of phone calls was identified as the primary barrier to staying in contact with loved ones in prison or jail.

“In 2019 in San Francisco no one should pay this much money to call their son or daughter or buy basic hygiene items,” said Treasurer José Cisneros. “We should not fund city operations on the backs of families who simply want to stay in touch with their lifelines and support networks. I am proud to stand with the Sheriff and the Mayor on this groundbreaking effort.”

Studies show that people who maintain contact with their families while incarcerated are less likely to reoffend after they are released and have lower recidivism rates. According to the Vera Institute, the majority of people who exit the criminal justice system end up residing with a relative or spouse after their release, and staying connected with family while incarcerated helps maintain these important relationships.

“This change will do more than allow for free phone calls within county jails. With this reform, San Francisco will open the lines of communication between incarcerated people and their families and support networks, which has been proven to reduce recidivism while boosting successful family and community reintegration,” said Aminah S. R. Elster, Family Unity Project Coordinator at Legal Services for Prisoners With Children.

“There are significant social and fiscal benefits associated with expanding communication between incarcerated people and their support networks. Yet, more important than utility is humanity. The relationship between a mother and her child should never be exploited, but rather protected and encouraged,” said Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises, an advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling the prison industrial complex. “We applaud Mayor Breed for building on the advocacy wins in New York City to make jail phone calls free.”

This reform builds on other efforts in San Francisco to assess and reform fines and fees that disproportionately affect low-income people and communities of color. In 2018, San Francisco became the first county in the nation to eliminate administrative fees across multiple City agencies that are charged to people exiting the criminal justice system. The City and County ultimately wrote off $32 million in debt that was owed by 21,000 people, since the fees were charged almost exclusively to low-income people who could not pay them. These fees created barriers to people’s re-entry and also had very low collection rates.

Changes to phone calls and commissary markups will go into effect over the next fiscal year. In the meantime, the Sheriff’s Department will continue to offer opportunities for free phone calls to those without funds in jail during holidays and observances such as this Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16.


SB 136: Repeal Unnecessary One-Year Enhancements on Sentences

January 16, 2019

Sacramento –  Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) joined a coalition of criminal justice reform advocates and co-authors to announce the introduction of Senate Bill 136. SB 136 repeals a mandatory one-year sentence enhancement that is added to an individual’s base sentence for each prior prison or felony jail term served.  This enhancement impacts about one-third of people serving time in California prisons. Currently, if an individual is convicted of a felony and has served time in jail or prison for a prior felony, a one-year enhancement must be added to their sentence even if neither their current nor prior felony is serious or violent. Research refutes that these enhancements help to deter individuals from committing crimes, reduce recidivism, or increase public safety.  Instead, these enhancements put a significant financial burden on taxpayers and families statewide.     

California has some of the most severe sentence enhancement for prior convictions in the nation. In the California Penal Code, over 100 separate sections enhance sentences based on an individual’s current offense and or record of prior convictions. As of 2016, 79% of people under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) custody had some sort of sentence enhancement attached to their base sentence, and 25% had three or more enhancements stacked on top. SB 136 would amend one of the most commonly used sentencing enhancements, which impacted one-third of individuals convicted in 2017.

“Automatically enhancing an individual’s sentence due to their history does not deter crime or increase public safety,” said Senator Wiener. “These enhancements are part of California’s tough-on-crime history, which has led to our state spending more on incarceration than on higher education, overcrowding in our prison system, and devastating impacts on communities of color and those impacted by the failed war on drugs. Repealing this unnecessary sentence enhancement will help our state spend less on ineffective policies that do nothing to increase public safety.”

According to CDCR, as of December 2018 there were over 15,000 counts of this particular enhancement added to sentences of incarcerated individuals.  This is a conservative estimate, as it does not take into account local county jail sentences impacted by the one-year enhancement.  California currently spends over $80,000 each year to imprison an individual. These sentence enhancements are thus very expensive, harm state and local budgets, and shift dollars away from desperately needed community services.       

SB 136 does not alter an individual’s base sentence for their current felony charge or amend any other enhancements for violent, repeat offenders.

SB 136 is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Friends Committee on Legislation of California, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Pillars of the Community, and Tides Advocacy. Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) is the principal co-author on the legislation, and it is co-authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), and Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) and Shirley Weber (D-San Diego).


“Children with incarcerated parents are more susceptible to chronic illnesses and are 4 times more likely to become incarcerated themselves,” said Romarilyn Ralston with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). “Sentencing enhancements are a public health issue, costly, and ineffective. An additional year in prison or jail for every prior conviction is hurting societies most vulnerable…our children. Don’t allow our children to be victims of a broken criminal justice system that puts profits over people. Pass SB 136 and give our kids the chance they deserve.”

“Sentencing policy should be evidence-based rather than guided by emotion,” said Jim Lindburg, Legislative Director for the Friends Committee on Legislation of California.  “It costs over $70,000 per year to incarcerate a person, and there is no evidence that enhancements deter repeat offending.  Instead of throwing more money down the drain, those funds could be better spent on effective crime reduction strategies such as treating addiction and mental health issues and providing job training so that people can successfully re-enter free society.”

“An additional year on a person’s sentence for a prior conviction is both immoral and ineffective,” said Amber-Rose Howard, Statewide Co-Coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Sentence enhancements have the effect of sentencing thousands of people in California to long periods of incarceration in overcrowded state prisons and county jails. This one-year enhancement destabilizes families and does not make our society safer. It’s time to repeal this policy failure and continue to move California towards true justice.”

“Sentence enhancements based on prior convictions are ineffective, draconian policies that augment racial disparities in the justice system,” said Mica Doctoroff, Legislative Attorney for the ACLU of California. “It’s long time California leave these failed policies behind to advance true justice and racial equity.”

SB 136 was officially introduced on January 15, and will be scheduled for a hearing in the coming months.

Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act Heads to Governor’s Desk


Terence Long, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Sabina Crocette, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children / 415.625.7040

California Assembly Passes Bill Allowing Judges to Strike Mandatory Sentence Enhancement for Prior Felony Convictions

Bill Now Heads to the Governor’s Desk

Sacramento, CA —The California Assembly voted to pass Senate Bill 1393, authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara with a vote of 41 to 31. SB 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act, restores judicial discretion to the application of the mandatory 5-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person’s record at the time when a person is currently charged with a serious felony. The bill is part of Senator Mitchell and Senator Lara’s Equity and Justice Package of 2018, which seeks justice reforms for juveniles and adults. Governor Brown has until September 30th to sign or veto this sentencing reform.
“Mass incarceration is a massive moral failure and policy failure,” said Senator Mitchell. “It’s a moral failure because we now know that it is injurious to families and to the economies of low-income communities, and that its violence has been directed overwhelmingly at Black and Brown communities. The passage of this bill is a victory for families and communities who have faced separation and destabilization for too long as a result of California’s complicated and punitive justice system.”
California has some of the most severe sentence enhancements in the nation. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, California has more than 100 separate code sections that enhance sentences based on a person’s current offense and/or record of prior convictions. PPIC states that as of 2016, 79% of people under CDCR custody had some kind of sentence enhancement attached to their base sentence; 25% had three or more enhancements stacked on. One of the most commonly used sentence enhancements is the five year enhancement for serious priors. According to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as of 2016, there are close to 100,000 years’ worth of the five year sentence enhancement applied to people currently under CDCR custody.  
The Fair and Just Sentencing Reform bill will help restore balance in the judicial process, address extreme sentences, and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system by allowing judges to decide what is best in the interest of justice. 
“We have seen the application of this mandatory enhancement for over 30 years. It is about time the California Legislature says, no more to failed and punitive policies.” said Amber-Rose Howard, Statewide Co-Coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Our coalition is looking forward to seeing the California Legislature advance even more changes around extreme sentencing, including continuing to address sentencing enhancements. California communities are depending on leadership that continues to approach public safety in ways that strengthen safety and keep families together.”
The passage of this bill builds on the growing momentum in California to enact criminal justice reforms that divest from ineffective mass incarceration policies and invest in community-based solutions like mental healthcare, education, and substance-use treatment. This bill also builds on the efforts of the California legislature, who passed SB 180 (The Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) authored by Senator Mitchell, which repealed the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions and SB 620 authored by Senator Bradford, allowing judges to strike unwarranted gun sentence enhancements. 
Advocates and community members who have lived through extreme sentences laud lawmakers for demonstrating their commitment to address failed policies. 
Co-sponsors of the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act include ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Drug Policy Alliance, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Friends Committee on Legislation of California, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Pillars of the Community, Tides Advocacy, and Women’s Foundation of California.

SENATE FLOOR ALERT – Fair Chance Occupational License Bills Head for Floor Vote!

AB 2138 (Chiu and Low) and AB 2293 (Reyes): Fair Chance Licensing Bill Package

California has one of the largest prison, parole, and probation populations in the United States where 8 million people have been impacted by the justice system through prior convictions. Access to family sustaining employment is critical to ensuring stability and success for the many women and men coming home, yet far too many people face enormous and unnecessary barriers, including being denied licensure in many occupations despite previous work experience, qualifications, rehabilitation, and successful completion of workforce training. 

AB 2138 and AB 2293 remove barriers to occupational licensing for many Californians who have already paid their debt to society and have demonstrated rehabilitation. These bills focus on reforming the overly restrictive licensing policies of the Department of Consumer Affairs-DCA (AB 2138), and gathering relevant data to evaluate the licensing policies of the Emergency Medical Services Authority-EMSA (AB 2293) that allow for the denial, revocation, and/or suspension of licenses because of prior arrests and convictions. Even those who gained job-specific training while incarcerated are still barred from working in their occupational field. This includes serving as a fire fighter while incarcerated, yet being denied an emergency medical technician (EMT) license upon release.

This bill package improves access to licensure by doing the following:

  • Prohibits DCA, from denying or revoking a license for the following reasons: a non-serious conviction older than seven years, a dismissed conviction, or a non-conviction act that is not directly related to the qualifications or duties of the profession for which the application is made.
  • Prohibits boards from requiring applicants to self-disclose criminal history information.
  • Requires boards to collect and publish demographic data about the applicants who are denied a license or whose license has been revoked or suspended based on criminal history.

By improving access to good jobs and careers, and ensuring all Californians have the opportunity to contribute and thrive, we can reduce recidivism, promote community safety, and secure a future of shared prosperity.

Call your CA State Senator [find yours here] and say, “We strongly urge your ‘AYE’ vote on AB 2138 and AB 2293!”

BLOCK PARTY! Freedom & Movement Center Grand Opening!

Join us Saturday, September 1 to celebrate our new home & the grand opening of the Freedom & Movement Center in North Oakland!

Free food! Bike Giveaway! Raffle prizes!

We’re so excited to have a new home of our own, and to open up the Freedom & Movement Center—a community center to train and organize formerly incarcerated & convicted people, family members, & allies.

Hope to see you Sept. 1!

For more info, contact AOUON Lead Organizer Dauras Cyprian: / 916.513.8364

‘As Long As Solitary Exists, They Will Find a Way to Use It’

Five years after he helped launch the largest-ever prison hunger strike, Todd Ashker is back in isolation. And he’s not the only one.

Inside a Security Housing Unit


On July 8, 2013, more than 30,000 incarcerated men and women across California began refusing to eat. It was the start of the nation’s largest-ever prison hunger strike, and for some the fasting would last nearly two months. The mass protest made headlines across the country, and compelled the state to seek a federal court’s permission to force-feed participants. After state lawmakers agreed to hold hearings about conditions inside California’s prison system, the strike was finally suspended on September 5, 2013.

What was remarkable about the statewide action was not just its size and duration, but the fact that it had been planned and coordinated by a group of men held in solitary confinement for 22 to 24 hours a day. The men were held in what was known as the Short Corridor of the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, one of the nation’s oldest and most notorious supermax prisons.

The so-called Short Corridor Collective was a racially diverse group of accused prison gang leaders, who were supposed to be mortal enemies. Some had been held in solitary confinement for as long as 23 years—isolated, like hundreds of others, because of their alleged gang activity. But together, from their windowless 11-by-seven-foot cells, via communications shouted down the corridor, they organized a hunger strike with five core demands. They wanted an end to the system of “group punishment.” They also demanded that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) modify its gang-status criteria, which justified placing individuals in indefinite solitary confinement if they were “validated” as gang members. These validations were often based on circumstantial evidence such as tattoos, reading materials, or associations with others. The only way out of the SHU was to “debrief,” or provide information incriminating others—a process that could be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefed and his family on the outside. It also invited false accusations by men desperate to be released from solitary. The other demands included an end to long-term solitary confinement as well as “adequate and nutritious food” and “constructive programming.”

In September 2012, the Short Corridor Collective issued an Agreement to End Hostilities among racial groups, which declared in part:

We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit! Because the reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole.

CDCR officials had repeatedly stated that, while the SHU is a form of restricted housing, it is not solitary confinement. They initially denounced the hunger strike as being organized by prison gangs. However, the growing attention from sympathetic state legislators as well as supporters across the country made it increasingly impossible to ignore the prisoners’ demands. In 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of all prisoners held in the SHU charging that prolonged solitary confinement violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violated constitutional guarantees of due process.

The lawsuit, Ashker v. Governor of California, was settled on September 1, 2015. Soon, the number of individuals held in the SHU began to drop dramatically, as men who had been in solitary confinement for as long as three decades were released into general population or into transitional “step-down” programs.

Among them was Todd Ashker, now 54, the high-profile lead plaintiff in the suit and a driving member of the Short Corridor Collective, who had been in the SHU since 1988 for his alleged ties to the Aryan Brotherhood. “I am still amazed at how big the sky looks,” he wrote shortly after his transfer from Pelican Bay to Kern Valley State Prison. “The sun gets hot! I’ve already gotten burned a few times.”

The changes were widely celebrated, culminating in an October 2017 60 Minutes segment in which Oprah Winfrey sat in a now-empty cell at Pelican Bay. She extracted a mea culpa from CDCR director Scott Kernan for his department’s past excessive use of solitary confinement, and accepted without question his pronouncements about the brighter and more humane future that was coming to pass for incarcerated Californians.

Five years after they refused their first meal, there can be no doubt that the prison hunger strikers and their supporters won a decisive victory. But prisons are notoriously change-resistant institutions, and the truth about solitary confinement in California today is far more complicated than the state-generated PR or upbeat reporting suggests.

Just ask Todd Ashker. After only 13 months of being able to see the sky and talk face to face with other human beings, Ashker is back in isolation. And he’s not the only one.

NYT: “They Served Their Time. Now They’re Fighting for Other Ex-Felons to Vote.”

Steve Huerta, a community organizer in San Antonio, has started a campaign to encourage former felons to vote, which is their right in Texas as long as they are no longer on probation or parole.CreditIlana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Ever since his own three-month stint behind bars, Steve Huerta has mentored fathers emerging from prison. But it soon dawned on him that they needed more than advice to break the cycle of joblessness and incarceration. What they needed, he decided, was political power.

So seven years ago, Mr. Huerta, a community organizer in San Antonio, began a door-knocking campaign to encourage former felons to vote, which is their right in Texas as long as they are no longer on probation or parole. Mr. Huerta has recruited formerly incarcerated people to head precincts, responsible for getting their neighbors to the polls. And he meticulously tracks the turnout rate of 98,000 voters with criminal records.

“This is an entirely new voting bloc,” said Mr. Huerta, who now represents his area on a statewide organizing committee for the Democratic Party in Texas. “It’s a political game-changer for struggling communities.”

Mr. Huerta is part of a growing national movement that is pushing to politically empower formerly incarcerated people by encouraging them to vote if they are eligible and pushing to restore their rights if they are not. Most states curb the voting rights of former felons to some degree; an estimated six million people nationwide are barred from voting because of felony convictions. But a number of states are now considering whether to get rid of the disenfranchisement laws that block felons from the polls.

In Florida, where 10 percent of adults can’t vote because of a felony conviction, a ballot initiative in November would automatically restore voting rights after a prison sentence has been completed. In New Jersey, state legislators are considering a bill that would allow people in prison to vote. It would be the third state, after Maine and Vermont, to do so.

Edward Galvan, 31, who was formerly incarcerated, registered to vote.CreditIlana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times


Supporters say the movement gives former felons hope that they will one day overcome the stigma of incarceration and be accepted as responsible citizens, in addition to giving impoverished communities a greater voice. But many conservative groups fiercely oppose the changes, arguing that people need to first prove that they are upstanding members of society before they can vote. 

Spearheaded by voting rights activists who have themselves served time in prison, the movement has racked up successes in recent years. In 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia restored the voting rights of more than 150,000 people who had completed their sentences. And last year, Alabama passed a law that clarified which crimes stripped the right to vote, allowing thousands of nonviolent offenders to cast a ballot. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that he will grant up to 35,000 parolees the right to vote.

“Rights restoration is all a part of a nationwide struggle to make America a real democracy,” said Assaddique Abdul-Rahman, a 54-year-old Virginia man who had struggled with homelessness and incarceration since age 16, when he was sent to prison for robbery. After his rights were restored by Mr. McAuliffe, he began to help other formerly incarcerated people register to vote. Eventually, a group called the New Virginia Majorityhired him as an organizer.

“In prison, they made sure to tell us, ‘You will never be able to vote, unless the governor restores your rights,’” he said. “I knew that those who could not vote did not have power. We were the underbelly.”

It’s unclear how these new voters might change the political landscape. Some political scientists predict that increasing felon turnout would have a relatively small impact, since it would advantage Democrats in urban areas where they already hold sway. But that could change as more formerly incarcerated people flee expensive city centers, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political-science professor at the University of Houston.

“As more ex-felons settle in suburbs, the current battleground for so many political battles, expanding voting rights to felons and active registration of ex-felons may flip some seats currently held by Republicans to the Democrats,” Professor Rottinghaus said. In Texas, he pointed to potential gains for Democrats in far west Houston, east Dallas and San Antonio, all areas with competitive congressional races this fall.

Dorsey Nunn, third from left, served 10 years for his role in a deadly liquor store robbery. He now heads a prisoner legal aid office in California that is pushing to allow low-level felons serving time in county jails to vote.CreditPeter DaSilva for The New York Times


In states with strict voting laws that disenfranchise felons indefinitely — such as Florida — increasing turnout would likely make a difference in election outcomes, said Christopher Uggen, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, who estimated that Democratic votes lost to felon disenfranchisement would have changed the outcome of seven Senate races since 1978, as well as the 2000 presidential election of George W. Bush.

The activists insist their work is nonpartisan and say they support candidates of any party who pledge to expand felons’ access to jobs, student loans, and the polls. But such politicians are rare, Mr. Huerta said. Democrats and Republicans alike tend to avoid campaigning in neighborhoods with high concentrations of felons.

The United States is one of only a handful of countries that strips voting rights from felons even after they have served their time. The concept dates back to the colonial era, when certain criminals were shunned and stripped of rights, a practice known as “civil death.” But it only began to impact large numbers of people in the wake of the Civil War, when several Southern states used it to disenfranchise black men who had recently gained the right to vote. Today, laws barring felons from voting vary by state. Eligibility can change radically from one governor to the next, causing widespread confusion.

The movement to restore felons’ voting rights has gotten tangled up in partisan ideological battles, with Democratic leaders tending to support expanded access to the ballot and Republicans opposing it.

People who commit serious crimes “should be required to prove that they have turned over a new leaf before we invite them back into the fold to be able to participate in the electoral process,” said Jason Snead, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, who argues for stepped-up scrutiny of felons at the ballot box as part of a broader campaign against voter fraud.

At least 180 felons have been prosecuted for voting over the past 20 years, according to a list of voting-related convictions and civil judgments compiled by Mr. Snead. The list includes over 100 felons who were prosecuted in Minnesota after a local citizens group, the Minnesota Majority, crosschecked the names of released felons against the list of people who cast ballots in 2008.

Mr. Huerta has meticulously tracked the turnout rate of 98,000 voters with criminal records.CreditIlana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times


“Voter fraud is a felony,” said Dan McGrath, a volunteer with the group, now defunct. “We think it’s a threat to our democracy.”

But many former felons who have been prosecuted for voting say they did not know they were ineligible, including Crystal Mason, a Texas woman who recently received a five-year prison sentence for voting in 2016. Ms. Mason, who was on probation for tax fraud, cast a provisional ballot with the help of a poll worker.

Uncertainty over whether they are eligible and fear of prosecution keep large numbers of felons from casting ballots, said Marc Meredith, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Even in states that allow felons to vote, he said, their turnout rate lingers between 10 to 20 percent in a presidential election year, far below the general population.

“Given that the downsides of voting illegally could be so harsh, relative to the benefit,” he said, some felons refuse to take the risk of voting even if they think they are eligible.

Punishments handed down to those convicted of illegal voting vary widely, from the payment of court fees to years in prison. In Texas, judges have sent felons back to prison for violating the terms of their probation by committing a new crime — voting while ineligible.

Last year, formerly incarcerated activists put on their first national conference, which was attended by about 500 people. It buoyed local efforts across the country. In Louisiana, Norris Henderson, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he insists he did not commit, heads Voice of the Experienced, a group working to expand the franchise to 71,000 people on probation and parole. In California, Dorsey Nunn, who served 10 years for his role in a deadly liquor store robbery, now heads a prisoner legal aid office that is pushing to allow low-level felons serving time in county jails to vote.

At an event at the California State Capitol last month, former felons learned how to lobby lawmakers on bills advocating better rights for themselves and their families.CreditPeter DaSilva for The New York Times


And in Texas, Mr. Huerta presses on with his door-knocking efforts. Since Ms. Mason’s prison sentence, he has revamped his material to include more prominent warnings against voting while on probation or parole. When people question whether voting is safe, he assures them it is not only safe, but vital.

“It’s our lifeline,” he says.

He uses his own 1999 conviction for speeding, drunken driving and drug possession to show former felons that they can also become voters and even elected officials.

In San Antonio’s City Council District 5, where more than 17 percent of voters have either a felony or a misdemeanor on their record, Mr. Huerta’s team has reached out to nearly half of all affected households over a period of years.

Mr. Huerta believes that boosting turnout is key to bringing needed resources into poor neighborhoods.

“No one spends money on people with no voting history,” he said.

He said felons and their families have already helped elect more sympathetic judges and a district attorney, Nico LaHood, who has an arrest record for a youthful drug offense.

In low-turnout local races, Mr. Huerta said, “We have the ability to elect justice-impacted people to the school boards that control a billion-dollar budget with about 600 votes.”

But if he succeeds, he expects a backlash. Given how many Americans have spent time behind bars, he said, “People may be thinking, ‘What if they all vote?’”

April 30: Hundreds of Formerly Incarcerated People, Family Members and Allies to Visit Sacramento for 6th Annual Quest for Democracy Advocacy Day


Participants Will Meet State Legislators and Advocate for Bills that Restore Rights and Reduce Barriers to Employment for Formerly Incarcerated People
Mark Fujiwara, Communications Coordinator: / 925.324.9745
Azadeh Zohrabi, Development Director: / 510.990.2841

On Monday, April 30, around 500 hundred formerly incarcerated people, family members, and allies from all over California will visit the Capitol in Sacramento for a large-scale statewide advocacy day called “Quest for Democracy.” The day will consist of an advocacy training, a rally in the park near the East Steps of the Capitol, and grassroots lobbying teams will meet with staff from most California legislator’s offices.

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and our grassroots organizing project All of Us or None work directly with ally and co-sponsor organizations to advocate for legislation that advances the civil and human rights of people in prison, their loved ones, and the broader community. This work is primarily lead by formerly incarcerated persons and those directly impacted by the criminal justice system, who work tirelessly to develop effective and humane alternatives to incarceration and punishment. For example, in 2017, LSPC and AOUON helped to pass AB 1008, which expanded “Ban the Box” policies to private employers and removed barriers to employment for over 7 million Californians with conviction histories.
Quest for Democracy bridges the gap between policy advocacy and community organizing by training formerly incarcerated people, family members, and allies to fight for their rights, while also providing the opportunity to communicate directly with California State Legislators.

“We are tax-paying Californians before, during, and after any state-imposed sentence,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of LSPC, “and we demand full access to the machinery of democracy to stay connected to our communities and maintain our humanity.”

Before the grassroots lobbying visits, the participants will join allies for a rally outside the Capitol building featuring speakers from many participating organizations, music, poetry, and dance. Organizers and attendees will promote a slate of bills that would shorten sentences, make police more accountable for their actions, remove barriers to employment, and promote voting rights.

“The voices and expertise of directly-impacted people are what give life to this legislation and Quest for Democracy is a chance to show lawmakers why these issues matter,” said Brittany Stonesifer, LSPC Staff Attorney and Q4D Legislative Committee Lead.
Bringing impacted people and allies from all over the state together creates community and empowers people to speak up at all levels of government.

Sandra Johnson, a survivor of incarceration, Q4D Organizer, and member of All of Us or None: “Quest for Democracy Day helps formerly incarcerated people and our families speak truth, regain dignity, and make California a better, safer place for all of us.”

Bills in the Quest for Democracy platform include:
Employment Rights:
AB 2138, AB 3039, AB 2293—removing barriers to occupational licenses

Economic Justice:
SB 1105—traffic ticket relief for incarcerated & indigent people
AB 2533—expands relief for indigent people in CDCR

Sentencing & Pre-Trial Release:
SB 1392, SB 1393—removing sentencing enhancements
SB 10—money bail reform
SB 1437—abolishes felony murder rule for accomplices

Youth Justice: 
AB 2010—prohibits tear gas at juvenile facilities
AB 2605—3-year ban on law enforcement calls by foster care facilities for behavioral management of youth in non-emergency situations

Probation, Parole, & Restoration of Rights:
SB 1025—allows probation for certain drug convictions
SB 1940—grants time credit and expands travel limitation for accomplishing educational and rehabilitation programs while on parole
AB 2845—creates a Pardon & Commutation Panel to review requests
AB 3115—requires county jails to allow voter education and registration programs

Police & Correctional Officer Accountability:
SB 1421—allows public access to findings and disciplinary records related to use of deadly and serious force by police officers
AB 2550—protections of people incarcerated in women’s prisons

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