NYC Department of Correction Gets Out the Vote

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Although an estimated 6.1 million Americans are disenfranchised due to their involvement with the criminal justice system, most individuals incarcerated in jails ARE in FACT eligible to vote. Additionally, New York State authorizes individuals to vote if they are on probation, have completed their sentence, received a Certificate of Good Standing, or have a pardon through Executive Order 181.


The NYC DOC takes its duty of providing access to voting for those in its custody very seriously and has made increased civic engagement a priority over the past 4 years. It has a deep understanding of the state's eligibility laws and pursues its civic engagement efforts accordingly.

How do people in custody exercise their right to vote?

The Department’s Civic Engagement Coordinator and Programs Division facilitate voting in our facilities in three phases:

1. Distribute and make available all necessary voter registration and absentee ballot forms in all available languages.

2. Provide non-partisan voter education and in-person assistance for individuals to understand and complete the required forms.

3. Leverage partnership with the Board of Elections to ensure in-person drop-offs, pick-ups, and timely delivery of all election mail on behalf of people in custody at no charge to the individual.

How do people in custody learn about elections?

  • Prior to elections, the Department hangs posters in high-traffic areas alerting individuals to the election, their right to civic engagement, and the state's voter eligibility criteria.
  • On a quarterly basis, in partnership with external service providers and city agencies, the Department conducts civic engagement events spread over the course of a week that assist individuals with voter registration and provide civic education.
  • Volunteers and staff conduct voter registration and absentee ballot drives within the facilities, distribute information brochures, and offer civic education. Both are trained on how to educate those in custody on relevant campaign issues and on the ways that individuals in custody can practice their constitutional rights.

How does the Department accomplish this with a transient population?

These mechanisms are more difficult to accomplish in a jail setting than in prison as people in jail move in and out more frequently. However, the Department does everything in its power to start and complete the process for everyone in custody and set them up with a path for future civic engagement upon release.

  • The Department created a Civic Engagement Coordinator position to oversee the operation of ensuring individuals in custody have the ability to execute their civic rights. The Coordinator builds relationships with external partners, volunteers, and city agencies to provide technical assistance for voter registration, form dispersal, vote submission, and release follow-up.

What is the Department doing for the 2021 Election during COVID-19?

In the wake of COVID-19, the Department had to suspend many of its volunteer in-person voter facilitation efforts. We distribute voting instruction packets to all individuals in custody that include voting instructions, eligibility criteria, and the requisite voter forms. Department staff conduct in-person voter assistance and are available to respond to any voting related questions. The Department looks forward to resuming its full in-person civic engagement operations and welcoming back civic engagement volunteers as soon as it is safe to do so.