Testimony on HB 5072: An Act Allowing Incarcerated Individuals to Vote

March 6, 2023
Committee on Government Administration and Elections
Submitted By: Michele Brabant, MSW Student, NASW/CT Intern

The Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, representing over 2,300 members, supports H.B. 5702. This bill takes an important action in addressing the vast disenfranchisement that primarily affects Connecticut’s poorer communities, particularly our Black and Brown residents. This bill aligns with the NASW Code of Ethics, Number 6, in that it is a Social Worker’s responsibility toward the broader society by promoting social welfare, public participation, and engage in social and political actions that ensure all people have equal access to resources that meet basic human needs and to develop fully. 1

When Connecticut enacted the state Constitution in 1818, we did not stand out as progressive. We followed along with every other state joining the union at that time, ensuring voting was only for “white men”. Connecticut aligned with southern states more than our neighbors of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire who did not use the word “white” as part of their voting requirements. Even after the ratification of the 15th amendment to our federal Constitution in 1870, it took another 6 years before those in our state power conceded. Finally, Connecticut’s Constitution supported the right for Black men to vote in 1876.2 Why is it, that 147 years later, do we still need to debate and justify why our incarcerated citizens should be able to exercise their most basic civic right? And why is it that this affects Black and Brown populations most? Why would we want to maintain a law that does not support social justice?

As Social Workers, many times we work with marginalized groups and individuals who resist the idea of voting or becoming civically engaged. For Social Workers, disenfranchisement adds another layer of change work that we need to address with our clients of all age levels, genders, races, and ethnicities, though mostly of those in our lower socio-economic communities. The level of internalized inferiority is generations deep. Allowing incarcerated individuals to vote provides an opportunity to educate citizens and undo these feelings of helplessness and oppression that many feel. Increasing one’s understanding of their rights and civic responsibilities can prevent recidivism and generational disenfranchisement.

In October 2022, a study by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that more than half of our incarcerated residents come from 6 of our largest cities (New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, New London, New Britain, and Bridgeport) with New Haven County producing the highest incarceration rates, yet the residents of these cities only make up 17% of our state’s population. 3  As of January 2021, 71% of Connecticut’s incarcerated people were Black or Brown, even though they only make up 29% of the state’s population. There is roughly over 9000 incarcerated people in our Connecticut prisons. 4 Expanding the right to vote to such people will enfranchise and provide opportunities to increase the feelings of self-worth and powerlessness that many feel.

In 2021, the Connecticut State Legislator passed Public Act 21-13, which allowed for most inmates to be counted at their address prior to their period of incarceration rather than the address of the prison. 5 Though important, the signing of this Act into law was only one small step toward alleviating disenfranchisement in affected communities. It is time for Connecticut to join with Maine, Vermont, Washington D.C, Puerto Rico, and even Alabama and Mississippi. Let’s continue to evolve our progressive and socially just values. NASW/CT urges the Government Administration & Elections to vote favorably on Bill 5702.

1 n.d. NASW: 6. Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to the Broader Society.
2 Ganeshram, Ramin. 2021. Constitution of 1818 & Black Suffrage: Rights for All? March 23. Accessed
2023. https://www.ctexplored.org/constitution-of-1818-rights-for-all/.

3 Wessler, Mike. 2022. New Data Reveals Where People in Connecticut Prisons Come From. October 5.
Accessed 2023. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2022/10/05/ct_origin?
4 Correction, Connecticut Department of. 2022. Research Unit Statistics. Accessed 2023.
5 “Report Pursuant to Public Act 21-13 An Act Concerning the Counting of Certain Incarcerated
Individuals for Purposes of Determining State Legislative and Municipal Voting Districts.” State of
Connecticut Office of Policy & Management. Office of Policy & Management – CT, September 21,
2021. https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/OPM/CJPPD/CjAbout/SAC-Documents-from-2021-2022/PA21-

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