Governor Bob McDonnell today announced the procedures for automatically restoring, on an individualized basis, civil rights to non-violent felons. The process was established with the help of multiple recommendations by stakeholder groups and affected agencies.
On May 29th Governor McDonnell announced that he would implement an automatic restoration process, within the confines of Virginia law, to those who meet the following conditions: 1) completion of their sentence, probation or parole; 2) payment of all court costs, fines, restitution, and completion of other court-ordered conditions, and 3) have no pending felony charges.
Speaking about restoration of rights, Governor McDonnell commented, "As a former prosecutor and attorney general, I strongly believe that the foremost priority of government is the safety and protection of our citizens. When people commit crimes, they must be punished in accordance with the law. But once they have served their time and fully paid for their crimes, they should be given an opportunity to return to their lives as full participants in our society. That is why we have implemented an effective statewide prisoner re-entry program to help prepare offenders to return to their communities as productive law-abiding citizens. A critical component of ensuring the security and protection of our citizens is reducing recidivism. Over 90% of inmates will be released from prison back into society. By making sure we have an effective system in place to give past offenders the opportunity to resume their lives as productive citizens, we can better keep them from committing another crime and returning to prison. This reduces victimization and prison expansion and is smart government."
Governor McDonnell continued, "These new procedures announced today govern the logistical and technical processes by which the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office will administer the automatic restoration of rights system."
Governor McDonnell concluded, "Starting today, those who have served their time, paid all fines, costs, and restitution and met other court-ordered conditions, will be able to regain their voting and civil rights as quickly as possible through a process that is automatic and individualized. I want to applaud the great work of the stakeholder working group whose ideas helped us develop this new process, as well as the affected state and local agencies who have worked hard over the last 45 days to implement the new system. Through this system, those presently being released from incarceration or probation, who qualify, will have their civil rights automatically restored. For past offenders, our goal is to grant civil rights back to as many as possible through the end of this administration. This is the right thing to do for all Virginians to help make the Commonwealth a safer and better place."
At the May announcement, in addition to announcing the general criteria, the governor tasked the Secretary of the Commonwealth to work with stakeholders, affected state agencies and other appropriate organizations to develop a smooth transition from an application system to an automatic system, with an announcement of the administrative processes to be made July 15th.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly added, "Having stakeholder and state agency collaboration was invaluable in solving the complex challenges of transitioning to an automatic restoration of rights system. The Secretary of the Commonwealth's office had been working internally on the transition for several months, but there were several significant obstacles for which we needed creative solutions. The biggest challenge involved locating felons who had been out of the legal system for years or even decades. We could easily find the felons who were currently in the system or who had previously expressed an interest in getting their rights back. However, there is no accurate comprehensive database of felons who are not currently in the legal or corrections system and have been released from probation, and the stakeholder group helped us to find creative solutions to meet that challenge."
"Governor McDonnell's plan creates a path for many people, who have paid their debt to society, to fully participate in society and stand alongside their neighbors at the voting booth," said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. "As we continue outreach work with our partners throughout Virginia, informing eligible individuals about the new rights restoration process and connecting them with the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, the new policy will go a long way in helping people finally get back their most fundamental of rights. We are pleased to hear the Governor has committed sufficient resources to automatically restore rights to the 500 to 700 eligible people completing their sentences every month. This will help stem the tide of disenfranchisement, while the additional resources he has added chip away at the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who have previously lost their rights." Advancement Project was part of the working group who made recommendations to the new system.
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