Governor Bob McDonnell today announced that he will automatically restore, on an individualized basis, civil rights to non-violent felons who meet the following specific conditions: 1) completion of their sentence, probation or parole; 2) payment of all court costs, fines, restitution, and completion of court-ordered conditions, and 3) have no pending felony charges.
Speaking about his announcement, Governor McDonnell stated, "I got my start in state public service in Virginia as a prosecutor. I strongly believe the foremost obligation of any government is to provide for the security and protection of its citizens. When someone commits a crime they must be justly punished. That is why, during my time in the General Assembly and as both attorney general and now governor, I have championed major reforms to ensure that sentences are appropriately set by law to punish those who commit serious offenses and to ensure that those convicted of offenses serve the sentence imposed.
"However, once these individuals have served their time and fully paid for the offenses they committed, they should be afforded a clear and fair opportunity to resume their lives as productive members of our society. America is a land of opportunity and second chances; a land where we cherish and protect our constitutional rights. For those who have fully paid their debt for their crimes, they deserve a second chance to fully rejoin society and exercise their civil and constitutional rights.
"As governor, one of my public safety priorities has been prisoner and juvenile offender re-entry. In 2010 I created the Prisoner and Juvenile Offender Re-entry Council and asked the Departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice to work with other state agencies and engage in coordinated re-entry planning. Focusing on evidence-based practices and effective programming, Virginia has made tremendous progress to prepare offenders to return to their communities after serving their time and to become productive members of their community."
"When I ran for governor, I pledged to institute the fastest and fairest restoration of rights process in Virginia history. We have approved more applications for the restoration of rights than any prior administration. We are acting on completed applications in 60 days or less; far quicker than prior efforts. A person convicted of a non-violent offense, who has served his or her time, paid all fines, costs, and restitution and met other court-ordered conditions, should be able to then regain the right to vote and begin their life again as a fully engaged member of our society. We are striving to make that happen, but after studying this issue we have determined that there is a better way, and one that is automatic and individualized, by which to achieve this goal. This means is within my authority as governor. We will do as much as we can within existing Virginia law to get as many individuals their voting and other rights back as quickly as we possibly can. It is the right thing to do for these fellow Virginians, and it's the right thing to do for Virginia."
"I have asked the Secretary of the Commonwealth to meet with stakeholders over the next 45 days and develop the appropriate administrative procedures associated with the transition, within legal constraints, from an application-based system to an automatic system."
Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly stated, "This is an important day in Virginia, thanks to Governor McDonnell's leadership and commitment to justice on the issue of restoration of rights. Restoring citizens to full civic participation in our Commonwealth has been some of the most meaningful work I've done for Governor McDonnell. I am pleased to work with stakeholder groups over the next 45 days to ensure a seamless transition from the current application process to the automatic process."
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli remarked, "In 2010, I voiced my strong support of Governor McDonnell's efforts to streamline the restoration of rights process. Today, I applaud the governor for pushing his own reforms even further. Many people in our communities have committed certain low-level, nonviolent offenses in the past, paid their restitution and debt to society, and have gone on to live law-abiding lives. We needed to simplify the process for those who want to regain their civil rights so they can return to full participation in society."
"As Americans, we believe in second chances and we believe in the right to vote," stated Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. "This is a great step for Virginia and we look forward to working with the Commonwealth and our state conference on expanding the vote. Anyone who has made a mistake, done their time and paid their debt to society should be able to join their neighbors at the voting booth."
Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) commented, "Restoring the right to vote for those who have lost it, many for decades following the payment of their debt to society, has been something that a lot of people have talked about for years but for one reason or another, we have seen hurdles to real progress on the issue. I'm honored to be part of this announcement that finally gives a voice to thousands of disenfranchised Virginians. I want to thank Governor McDonnell for having the courage to take up and champion this issue. Expanding participation in our democracy benefits everyone in our great Commonwealth."
Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) stated, "The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. When that right is limited, then every other one of their rights is limited because everything flows from your right to participate in the democratic process. Once a person has paid his or her debt to society, it benefits them and our society to restore that fundamental right. I am proud to support the governor's historic actions today that expand access to the democratic process for thousands of Virginians."
The restoring of civil rights does not include the restoration of the right to possess or carry a firearm, which can still be done by application to the appropriate circuit court. Individuals with violent felony convictions are not affected by this change and will need to go through the application process for review as is currently the case.
In order to have automatic restoration of rights a person must:
-Have been convicted of a non-violent felony in a Virginia court, or convicted in a U.S. District Court, military court or a court of another state or territory;
-Have completed serving the prison sentence and been released from probation or parole; and
-Have paid all court costs, fines to the Commonwealth and restitution to the victims, satisfied all court-ordered conditions, and have no pending felony charges.
With the Governor's announced changes the following prior components of the restoration process for non-violent felons are eliminated:
-Two year waiting period to be eligible
-The Governor's subjectivity regarding application decisions
-Misdemeanor charges and convictions will no longer be a factor for restoration
Additional information, including a listing of non-violent felonies, can be found on the Secretary of the Commonwealth's website: http://www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/JudicialSystem/Clemency/restoration.cfm
A copy of the Governor's letter to Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly outlining his policy changes is available here: http://www.governor.virginia.gov/utility/docs/20130529124204967.pdf