On tap before committee: Giving ex-inmates voting rights information

TRENTON – A bill to mandate that inmates receive voter registration information when exiting prisons or halfway houses will get a hearing Thursday.

S2276/A3428, which will be before the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, is a watered-down version of what started life about six years ago as a comprehensive prisoner re-entry bill that never advanced, according to sponsor Sen. Shirley Turner, (D-15), Trenton.

The original package sought to address many issues for ex-cons, including job training, child support, substance abuse recovery options, records expungement and more, but Turner said the bill could not find traction.

But going along with the idea that half a loaf is better than none, the bill that will be given an airing Thursday concentrates on the idea of providing inmates with information on voting instructions, she said.

The bill seeks to correct the misperception among some inmates that they have permanently lost their voting rights, Turner said.

“This bill is to help them become fully integrated, upstanding citizens, and to help reduce recidivism,’’ Turner said.

The bill also mandates that a former prisoner receive a form certifying they were informed of their right to vote.

The bill states that an individual who is convicted of a crime of the fourth through first degree is prohibited from voting in any primary, municipal, special or general election while serving a sentence for that crime and while on parole or probation as a result of that conviction.

Turner said that she is aware there are forces aligned against any proposal that would benefit someone who has committed a crime, but, she said, “the high cost when it comes to incarcerating people’’ requires that they seek ways to help inmates from returning to a life of crime.

The original plan in 2007 was “a wide-ranging approach to re-entry,’’ but for now, this narrower bill will have to do, she said.

On tap before committee: Giving ex-inmates voting rights information