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Process details, including the recategorization of some felonies, were released Monday.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
In streamlining the state’s restoration of rights process, it’s increasingly clear that automatic won’t mean overnight.
The McDonnell administration on Monday rolled out details of how the state’s revamped restoration of rights process would work after a committee of civil rights groups and others met over 45 days to hash out the finer points of implementation.
Some felons convicted of burglary and breaking and entering, who had previously been considered nonviolent felons for purposes of rights restoration, will be moved to the violent felons category.
In May, when McDonnell announced the new process, he moved burglary and breaking and entering into the violent felony category for purposes of the restoration while the committee was considering the implementation details.
His office announced Monday that he would keep the bulk of statutory burglary and breaking and entering offenses as nonviolent crimes but move “more serious” types, including entering with a deadly weapon, to the violent offenses list.
Some members of the working group had expressed concerns about the recategorization of felonies. Advocates on Monday sounded pleased that most burglary and breaking and entering offenses would be categorized as nonviolent, but they pressed for greater action.
“While the ACLU of Virginia continues to commend the governor for the progress he has made in restoring voting rights when compared to his predecessors, the yardstick against which his efforts are being measured is one that sets the bar way too low to define the new program as a ‘success,’ ” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.
The ACLU said it and other advocates also wanted McDonnell to classify most drug offenses as nonviolent, and that it is “profoundly disappointed” that the revamped program will not extend to those offenses.
The administration also announced Monday that the secretary of the commonwealth’s office is adding four staffers to process the restorations. The state is also spending roughly $10,000 on new technology to ease data transfers to the state board of elections.
“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,” McDonnell said in a statement.
“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.”
One of the administration’s biggest challenges, officials say, involves locating felons who left the system years ago, perhaps decades ago. Of the estimated 350,000 disenfranchised voters in the state, the administration believes roughly 100,000 are eligible to have their rights restored.
But first they have to find them.
The state has a handle on the felons currently in the justice system — between 500 and 700 people complete their sentences or finish probation or parole on average each month — and those who have applied for restoration.
For the others, civil rights groups and advocates have agreed to help with outreach, and the state is setting up an online form on the secretary of the commonwealth’s website and a phone number.
McDonnell’s change applies only to nonviolent felons. Prior to his change, there was a two-year waiting period before a nonviolent felon c ould apply for restoration of rights. He is removing the waiting period and the subjectivity.
Once the administration verifies that a nonviolent felon has completed his sentence and probation or parole, paid all fines and restitution, and has no pending felony charges, the governor will send the person a letter restoring his rights.
People convicted of violent felonies will still have a five-year waiting period and must submit an application for review by the governor.
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