McDonnell announces process for restoration of rights for ex-felons
Gov. 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 29 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.
“As a former prosecutor and attorney general, I strongly believe that the foremost priority of government is the safety and protection of our citizens,” McDonnell said. “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.”
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 15.
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.”
“Gov. 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.
Criteria for Automatic Restoration of Rights
(Announced May 29th)
- · Have been convicted of a non-violent felony in a Virginia court, or 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;
- · And, have paid all court costs, fines to the Commonwealth and restitution to the victims, satisfied other court-ordered conditions, and have no pending felony charges.
General Process for Automatic Restoration of Rights effective July 15th
- · Over the past 45 days, the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office (SOC) has met with stakeholder groups to get their input and recommendations. Many of their recommendations were implemented through this new process including:
1. Ways to connect with past felons who have been out of the legal system for years or decades.
- · A contact form is currently on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website. The form can be mailed to:
Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth
Restoration of Rights Division
P.O. Box 2454
Richmond, VA 23218
or faxed to (804) 786-9549. Forms will be made available at probation and parole offices as well.
- · A web-based form that will allow for direct submission online will be available by August 1st. It will be available at:www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/
- · A toll free number (1-855-575-9177) is also available for people who do not have access to a computer or would prefer to call and provide the information necessary to ensure the criteria is met.
2. Keeping the majority of statutory burglary and breaking and entering offenses as non-violent crimes eligible for automatic restoration of rights. More serious types of statutory burglary and breaking and entering such as those with the intent to commit serious bodily harm or entering with a deadly weapon will be moved to the violent offenses list.
3. Redirecting resources targeted at state agencies who conduct criminal background checks, and other suggestions for reducing bottlenecks in the process.
4. Upgrading technology at the State Board of Elections to prevent manual data entry and allow for electronic updates each week (to be funded and completed soon).
5. Implementing an advertising and outreach component that will be conducted with the assistance of the stakeholders.
6. Working with clerks of court to ensure that any information needed from them is produced in a timely manner.
- · Due to the increase in requests that the SOC is anticipating, staff will be processing requests just as quickly as possible. SOC has added 4 additional staff and has worked to streamline business processes in preparation for the increased volume of requests. Some limited additional resources have been designated to other state agencies who assist with the ROR process.
- · Individuals must receive their rights restoration order from the Governor before they submit a voter registration application. Individuals who have their rights restored should still register to vote, as non-felon citizens are required to do.
- · SOC will be sending names of those who have had their rights restored on a weekly basis to State Board of Elections.
- · Additional Information, including the Contact Form and FAQ’s on the new process can be found at: www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/
- · For those non-violent offenders who submitted an application prior to or right after the May 29thannouncement, the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office is working on processing these requests as quickly as possible.
- · For those non-violent offenders whose prior application had been denied or deemed ineligible during the McDonnell Administration, Restoration of Rights staff has completed their inventory of those files, and for those who are now eligible, they are working to process those request as quickly as possible.
- · These felons do not need to provide the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office any additional information unless they are contacted by the office for clarification.
Past Non-Violent Offenders Whose Rights Have Not Been Restored:
- · Virginia does not have an accurate, comprehensive list of all the non-violent felons who are no longer in the legal or corrections system and where they are located – therefore, we have established a mechanism by which individuals can contact the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.
- · For those who have had non-violent felony convictions in the past, they can contact the Secretary’s Office by one of three ways:
o Contact Form (available online): An individual can fill out this form and mail it in to the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The contact form has basic information that staff needs to move forward with their request
o Hotline (1-855-575-9177): Restoration of Rights staff will be able to take down the information needed to move forward with their request
o Web Portal (www.commonwealth.virginia.
Process for Future Individuals Released from Incarceration:
- · These are individuals who are either being released from incarceration under Department of Corrections or being released from supervised probation under Department of Corrections.
- · Beginning with May 2013, the Department of Corrections will identify offenders who are to be released that month as indicated above and who may qualify for automatic rights restoration based on the Governor’s criteria.
- · After ensuring the criteria have been met, SOC will process individual grant orders to either the last known address or the home plan address.
History of Restoration of Rights under Governor McDonnell
- · As a candidate for Governor in 2009, Governor McDonnell pledged to implement the fastest and fairest system for the restoration of civil rights in modern Virginia history, with a self-imposed deadline to have decisions made within 90 days.
- · In 2010, after reviewing the process, he rolled out a voluntary deadline to have decisions within 60 days of receipt of completed applications and reduce the waiting time from three years to two years.
- · Governor McDonnell has already granted rights to 5,235 people. Governor Tim Kaine granted right to 4,402 people; Governor Mark Warner granted rights to 3,486 people.
- · Since the May 29th announcement of automatic restoration of rights, 423 rights were granted for felons who had previously applied with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.
- · Because of the constitutional issues, the new procedures are as automatic as possible within his authority as governor and within existing Virginia law.
- · Governor McDonnell also instituted, in the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice, with assistance from several other state agencies, local partners, and private as well as non-profit and faith based organizations, a national model program for prisoner re-entry that centers on preparing offenders for release back into their communities as productive members of society.