Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has announced sweeping changes in the process for restoring civil rights to former felons.
The governor pledges a 60-day turnaround period on all completed applications, compared to a previous standard of six months or more. Those convicted of non-violent felonies may now apply after only two years, instead of three.
“When someone commits a crime they must be justly punished,” McDonnell said in a news release. “However, once they have served their time and fully paid for the offenses they have committed, they should be afforded a clear and fair opportunity to resume their lives as productive members of our society. That’s why we announced an innovative prisoner re-entry plan last week and why we’re significantly improving the restoration of rights process today.”
“[W]e have now established the fastest and fairest restoration of rights process in modern Virginia history,” McDonnell said.
The ACLU of Virginia, which had pushed for easier rights restoration, sounded encouraged but still skeptical about the reform measures.
“These changes are commendable, but it’s the results that matter in the end,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The Governor will need to both implement these technical changes and devote more resources to the voter restoration process in order to increase the numbers.”
“We feel like this is just the beginning of a real conversation with the Governor about reforming the voter restoration process in Virginia,” added Willis. “Even with these changes, Virginia will still rank last or next to last in the nation in restoration of voting rights, and there will still be more than 300,000 disenfranchised felons here.”
By Peter Vieth