A new Washington, D.C., agency, the Office on Returning Citizen Affairs, gives out fliers to former inmates proclaiming, “YOU CAN LEGALLY VOTE,” reports the Washington Post. The office is designed for convicted criminals, a center for training, job placement, housing services and other programs for a slice of the population growing by thousands each year. Ex-offenders account for at least one in 10 D.C. residents and perhaps many more. That makes them a potentially pivotal voting bloc in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary for mayor.
Every mayoral candidate has promised something. Any taboo that previously muted politicking with prisoners, some of whom once preyed on city residents, has disappeared in favor of winning a few thousand votes that could tip the balance in a close race. One candidate for mayor, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser, complained that the Metro transit agency’s hiring policy discriminates against city residents with “relatively minor” felony convictions. Another candidate, Council member Tommy Wells, stressed that his bill to decriminalize marijuana would help keep former prisoners out of jail. A third, Council member Vincent Orange, pledged a 40-fold increase in spending on ex-offender services. Incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, who seeks a second term as he braces to face potential charges himself related to illegal funding in his 2010 campaign, has expanded city services for ex-offenders like no mayor before him and promises more in the next four years.