Public defender encourages incarcerated people at Santa Rita to vote

FILE ART - Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office is encouraging people held at Santa Rita Jail to vote in the Nov. 3 election and has been instructing incarcerated people of their rights through an instructional video. 

Many people wrongly believe they cannot vote if they are in jail or have been convicted of a felony. In fact, only people who are currently on parole, are serving a state prison sentence or are mentally incompetent cannot vote.

“There’s a pervasive belief that people who have been prosecuted by the criminal justice system shouldn’t have their voices heard. We want to change that,”  Chief Public Defender Brendon Woods said in a statement. “There are nearly 2,000 people in our county jail. Many of them can vote, and every eligible citizen should cast a ballot in the upcoming election.”

The jail’s inmate services division this week began showing the videos on TVs at the jail and has also put a “Step-by-Step Voter Registration Guide” created by the Public Defender’s Office on electronic tablets used by people at the jail to communicate with their loved ones. The V.O.I.C.E. team also has hosted two days where it was on call for people at the jail to call in with questions and hopes to have more on-call events before the election.

The videos were produced by the Public Defender’s V.O.I.C.E. project. They describe who is eligible to vote and provide instructions for how to vote from jail.

Social worker Sascha Atkins-Lorai said inmates can request a voter registration ballot through the iPads they are given in jail. Ballots should be mailed to them in jail. 

There are two versions of the video. One, in English, features Woods, Ear Hustle co-host and producer Earlonne Woods and Adnan Khan, executive director of Re:Store Justice. There’s also a Spanish version featuring Associate Deputy Public Defender Daniela Molina. The videos were produced by Manuel Ortiz, a social worker at the office. Ear Hustle co-founder Antwan Williams produced the music featured in the videos.

Jails are not the same as prisons. Prisons are run by the state of California or the federal government and hold people who have been convicted of certain felonies.

Jails, on the other hand, hold people who are accused of committing new crimes or otherwise violating the terms of court-ordered supervision; people who have been sentenced to time in jail after misdemeanor or certain felony convictions; people who have been sentenced to state prison and awaiting transportation there; and people held by other entities that rent space from the jail, such as the federal government.

Since 2016, social workers, attorneys and other public defender employees have helped more than 1,100 people register to vote. The program has visited Santa Rita 12 times and also registered people at an event outside the jail and at the Public Defender’s annual community party.

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day. 

Who can vote in California: Cheat Sheet

  • Must be a citizen of the United States.
  • Must be at least 18 years old.
  • Can vote if on probation or Post-Release Community Supervision.
  • Can vote if have felony conviction on record.
  • Cannot be currently on parole.
  • Cannot be currently serving a state or federal prison sentence.
  • Cannot be currently deemed mentally incompetent by the court.