Mobilizing in Men’s Central Jail to “Unlock the Vote”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and rapper, activist, and Selma cast member “Common” enter Men’s Central Jail to register voters.  Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stood on the steps of Men’s Central Jail with rapper and activist “Common” and representatives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Office of Diversion and Reentry, American Civil Liberties Union, and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership to promote voter registration for justice-involved individuals. In honor of National Voter Registration Day, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas promoted the recent launch of a campaign to bring voter awareness to incarcerated individuals called “L.A. Free the Vote”, followed by a voter registration drive inside the jail.

The motion to officially dedicate Tuesday, September 25, 2018 to voter registration in Los Angeles County was authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Together, he and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, created the Voter Engagement Taskforce for Justice-Involved Populations, directed at increasing voter education and registration to justice-involved communities. Their L.A. Free the Vote work aims to register as many justice involved individuals as possible by the November 2018 election.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, yet more than one million eligible citizens in Los Angeles County have not registered to vote,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“I think the vote is one of the first steps that we can do as people in this country to show that we care and people have made mistakes, but we’re still reaching out for them. That’s what America is supposed to be about,” said rapper, activist and Selma cast member.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stands with LASD Commander Roosevelt Johnson, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, Director of the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) SoCal Jails Project Esther Lim, rapper and activist “Common” and others on the steps of Men’s Central Jail. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Commander Roosevelt Johnson, who oversees the Men’s Central Jail, stood with the facility unit commander, Captain Ruthie Daily, and Chief Joanne Sharp, who oversees Custody Services Division-General Population, and stated, “We are excited to partner with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Registrar Recorders Office and ACLU’s SoCal Jails Project to ensure eligible inmates in the county jail system are afforded an opportunity to register to vote. While we realize this is not an easy task, we are committed to assisting our partners in this effort.”

Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Los Angeles County, said, “When we don’t use our vote, we unwittingly give up our voice either to others or to deafening silence. By exercising our right to vote we are claiming power, influence and significance.”

Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry and co-convener of the County’s Taskforce, said, “The Office of Diversion and Reentry is excited to help lead the L.A. Free the Vote taskforce and campaign to support the reentry population in exercising their civic right to vote. We see this as an important part of ODR’s strategy for supporting this population holistically through job training, mental health services, housing and more.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Common help a Men’s Central Jail inmate register to vote. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Esther Lim, Director of the American Civil Liberties SoCal Jails Project, announced participation in today’s event, as part of the “Unlock the Vote” project, designed to bring voter registration to eligible individuals incarcerated within the Los Angeles County jail system. “All because someone is behind bars DOES NOT preclude them from participating in our most important right, the right to vote. We are proud to be a partner in this countywide effort that we hope will be a shining example across the state and country to show that every voice matters and every vote matters.”

Troy Vaughn, Executive Director of Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LAARP) states, “LAARP is thrilled to be a community partner in the LA Free the Vote campaign, engaging thousands of people in Reentry who don’t know they are eligible to vote, because research tells us that after a job, civic engagement is one of the best protective factors that can drastically reduce recidivism.”

After the news conference, volunteers and representatives went inside Men’s Central Jail to register incarcerated voters. They walked the rows, providing inmates with information on the voting registration process and giving them the opportunity to register for November’s election.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “From where I stand — informed by the civil rights movement — every day is an opportunity to celebrate voter registration. Voting is how we are heard, and every vote counts.”