The right to vote helps rehumanize incarcerated people | Guest column

  • Friday, March 12, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion
Stock photo

Stock photo

By Kim Bogucki, For The Reporter

In 2008, I began asking incarcerated people a seemingly simple question: “If there was something someone could have said or done to have changed the path that led you to prison, what would it have been?” This simple question grew into a collaboration between law enforcement, directly-impacted people, and community partners focused on sharing stories to reduce incarceration.

After 13 years of hearing thousands of answers and forging hundreds of relationships with people with lived experience, the reality cannot be dismissed: the paths that brought these people into the criminal legal system are often rooted in poverty, racism and inequities in housing, healthcare and education. These weigh most heavily on our Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.

If we are serious about combating the root causes that lead people into prison, we must dismantle the barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated persons from contributing to their community. Among these are the laws that strip these individuals of one of the most basic rights bestowed upon us by the Constitution: the right to participate in our democracy through our vote.

Today, over 20,000 Washingtonians who are living in our communities, working, paying taxes and meaningfully contributing to their neighborhoods are unable to vote because of the impact of our criminal legal system. For the months or years that they are under community supervision, they are denied a chance to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Our lawmakers took the first step to change this recently when the Washington State House passed House Bill 1078. If the Senate does the right thing and also passes this bill, we could restore the right to vote to every citizen living in our communities.

Critics of this bill may argue a public safety or law enforcement reason for continuing to deny individuals meaningful participation in their government. Such arguments are unfounded.

On the contrary, the right to vote helps rehumanize people, gives them a sense of belonging to their community, and returns their ability to civically engage in our democracy. The research is clear: providing individuals the opportunity to contribute to society reduces their likelihood of returning to the criminal legal system. As a 32-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, I am here to tell you that restoring people’s right to vote has no public safety risk, and in fact makes our communities safer.

When we allow every citizen in the community to vote, we set them up for success. It is when we fail to welcome people home, when we continue to marginalize them and strip them of one of the fundamental rights that bonds us as Americans, that we set them up to fail.

I want to ask our Washington Senators an “if” question. If someone told you that you had the opportunity to address systemic racism and make our community safer by rehumanizing our community members, would you take it?

By passing House Bill 1078, we have a chance to honor the will of impacted people, the Department of Corrections, survivor groups, and law enforcement representatives like me. We are all calling on Olympia to give a voice back to our neighbors.

Kim Bogucki is a 32-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department and the co-founder of the IF Project. The Washington State Voting Rights Restoration Coalition supports the restoration of voting rights to those formerly incarcerated in order to support their successful reintegration into the community. Contact: info@freethevotewa.org


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@covingtonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.covingtonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Jayendrina Singha Ray is a PhD (ABD) in English, with a research focus on the works of the South African Nobel Laureate John Maxwell Coetzee. She teaches English Composition and Research Writing at Highline College, WA, and has previously taught English at colleges in India.
Asian women and racial violence in the aftermath of Atlanta | Guest column

In her famous essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Hélène Cixous resurrects… Continue reading

Stock photo
Access to cash is a prescription for better health | Guest column

By Danny Low, For the Reporter As I see pictures of my… Continue reading

Tim Eyman. File photo
Editorial: Judge’s rebuke of Eyman protects initiative process

Along with a $2.6 million fine, the ruling places restrictions on Eyman’s future initiative campaigns.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Regional homeless agency behind schedule, but there’s hope | Roegner

It is the middle of winter and it’s too cold for anyone… Continue reading

Courtesy image
Thoughts on police reform and public trust | Guest column

By Steven D. Strachan, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs The… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
A legislative session like no other we’ve seen | Roegner

In even numbered years such as 2020, the legislative session is only… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Time to predict November’s election winners | Roegner

A look at statewide offices in Washington.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Let’s clear the air on wildfires, climate change

Agreement and commitment is needed to address the causes of wildfires and climate change.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Republican’s write-in campaign highlights post-primary intrigue | Roegner

Can former Bothell mayor beat two Democrats for lieutenant governor post?

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Editorial: State lawmakers shouldn’t wait to start budget work

Making tough choices on cuts and revenue can’t wait until next year and hopes for better news.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Race relations and your local police department | Roegner

The jury is our citizens, and they are divided.

Rico Thomas, left, has been a clerk in the Fuel Center/Mini Mart at Safeway in Federal Way for the past 5 years. Kyong Barry, right, has been with Albertsons for 18 years and is a front end supervisor in Auburn. Both are active members of UFCW 21. Courtesy photos
Grocery store workers deserve respect and hazard pay | Guest column

As grocery store workers in King County, we experience the hard, cold… Continue reading