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Non-violent felons to regain civil rights

Jordan Crawford | 8/15/2013, 9:57 a.m.
Gov. McDonnell pictured with NAACP’s Ben Jealous and Kemba Smith after the governor announced the automatic restoration of voting and civil rights on individualized basis for non-violent felons. Michaele White

“This is not a law, it’s a policy. It can be tweaked or even abolished by the next governor,” said Aulger.

This provision has garnered McDonnell praise from many, but not all, of his peers. Shawn Jones, who attended the forum, said that voting is a right, not a privilege.

“This is creating a disenfranchisement between non-violent and violent criminals,” he said. “A criminal is a criminal. If the non-violent criminals are separated from the violent ones, the non-violent criminals will begin to think they are better or more deserving than the violent criminals. Everyone has a right to vote.”

It is true. The new automatic civil rights restoration process does not include those who have committed violent crimes. Those individuals must complete a five-year application. Also contrary to some people’s belief, the process does not remove convictions from a criminal record.

Rodney Cain, who also attended the forum, was incarcerated for 10 years and all of his crimes were non-violent. Today he is a new man and has no complaints.

“This will help me in a manner that would empower me to be an instrumental part in my community," said Cain. "Giving me the right to vote again is that first step in making me feel like I am a returning resident rather than somebody who is on probation or parole and a label with a number."

Governor McDonnell believes that it is a mark of good government to restore constitutional rights to non-violent felons to provide the opportunity to succeed and become law-abiding citizens again.

“Having more law-abiding, productive citizens results in lower prison and jail-related costs, but more importantly, there will be fewer future victims,” he said.