Monday, January 4, 2010

The Restoration of Rights for Former Felons in Virginia

Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states in the country that do not have a clear path to restore basic rights to former felons after they have completed their sentence. This puts a plethora of problems and restrictions on former felons, many of whom were convicted of non-violent crimes decades ago but continue have their basic rights, such as the right to vote in elections, the right to drive, and the right to hold office, restricted. The governor has the authority to restore rights to individual felons, but only a small percentage of them apply for restoration (often because the process is unclear) and even fewer are actually approved to have their rights restored. The 48 other states have some sort of provision to automatically restore rights, two states never revoke them in the first place, so we, and many others, feel that it time to change the situation.

This next two weeks are very important for doing just because that is all the time left Virginia has with Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, who will be replaced in two weeks when he leaves office to become the chair of the DNC by Republican Bob MacDonnell. Gov Kaine has personally restored the rights to more former felons than any of his predecessors, but he has the ability to, by executive order, to instantly restore rights to the tens of thousands of former felons who currently do not have them and establish such a system to automatically restore these rights in the future. There is a large population who know the struggles of rights restrictions all too well and a growing population who feels that this is unjust needs to be changed who are all calling on Gov Kaine to step up and take action.

As a result, a coalition headed by the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP) has taken several actions persuade the Governor to take action on behalf of his struggling citizens. One of the steps was to hold an event in Petersburg, VA, to assist felons who want to have their rights restored and to pressure the Governor to take the politically tenuous but personally important step to automatically restore the rights of felons across the state. We were at the event and spoke with both former felons, for whom this has been a major issue, and community leaders, who are fighting on behalf of their neighbors. I edited together a piece from each of these groups. The first is from a few former felons who were gracious enough to share their struggles with us and the second is compiled of interviews from activists and community leaders who everyday are helping to improve the lives of their neighbors.

I encourage you also to please take action yourself and call Governor Kaine and tell him to restore the rights to former felons in Virginia. The number is (804) 785- 2211.

Again, please call Governor Kaine on behalf of these former felons and tell him to restore their rights. The number is (804) 786- 2211.

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