The Conservatism of Rights Restoration

Posted: January 4, 2010 by Coby Dillard in Editorial/Commentary
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Much has been made lately in left-leaning circles of Frank Anderson, a Virginian who was convicted and served time for burglary in 1999. In 2008, Frank’s petition to have his voting rights restored was denied because of several speeding tickets that he received over the preceding five years.

Virginia laws regarding restoration of rights for felons are among some of the most restrictive in the nation. Frank’s denial was due to a requirement that applicants have no legal trouble for three to five years (depending on the nature of their felony) before they apply for restoration. Even after this, a felon must have his application approved by the governor, who has no set time to review or make a decision on the application.

It’s time for all this to change. And with Republicans holding all three of Virginia’s top offices, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.

During the ’09 elections, Bob McDonnell made streamlining the rights restoration process a part of his urban revitalization policies. At a community forum in Richmond, he said:

“Restoration of rights is important to those who want to become productive members of society.  I believe that rights should be restored to certain non-violent felons who have met very specific requirements, demonstrated that they have maintained a clean record, and are contributing members of society. Non-violent offenders should provide proof of a consistent job history and a record of community service, in addition to the current requirements already in place.  As Governor, I will utilize the power and the resources available to me to expeditiously review complete petitions for restoration of rights submitted by non-violent felons.  By providing released persons with incentives to remain contributing members of society, we can decrease recidivism and hopefully lessen the burden on our jails and correctional facilities in the future.”

In fact, the RPV creed states that Virginia Republicans believe:

“That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society.”

Looking at this, it should be easy to apply this conservative belief to Virginia’s ex-prisoner population. The right to vote being one of the cornerstones of civic responsibility, you would think that Republicans would jump at the chance to allow more people a chance to exercise their freedoms as citizens.

Yet too often, it’s our party that leads the fight to keep ex-prisoners disenfranchised. During the 2008 presidential election, Republicans cried foul when Gov. Kaine restored the rights of many felons so that they could vote. Did Kaine make this move for partisan purposes, or just because it was the right thing to do? Arguments can be made either way. It would, however, speak very highly of the incoming Republican administration to make a quick and decisive move on making the restoration process easier-especially when little political capital would be gained or lost in doing so.

So how can we make this process easier for Virginia’s ex-prisoners?

1. Remove the requirements for restoration that don’t make good common sense. The restrictions that led to Frank’s denial are a good example of these. There should be a requirement that ex-prisoners demonstrate their willingness and ability to be responsible citizens by finishing an education program (either by obtaining a GED or completing a vocational program), maintaining employment for a year prior to applying for restoration (and two years after approval of their application), and avoiding any legal trouble that would call into question their character or judgment. Speeding tickets don’t rise to that standard.

2. Set a deadline for the governor to either approve or deny applications for rights restoration. 60-90 days should be enough for the Secretary of the Commonwealth to review an application, conduct the necessary background checks, and forward their recommendation to the governor’s office for final disposition.

Another way to stream the restoration process would be to allow the governor to create an independent commission to review and adjudicate restoration applications. This commission could consist of a member of the House of Delegates and a state Senator-from opposite parties-a former law enforcement official, a religious leader, and a member of a community program that works with ex-prisoners to help successfully re-integrate them into society. The commission would review application and make their decision by majority vote.

As a political party that prides itself on individual freedom, Virginia’s Republicans have a unique opportunity to act on an issue that will enable more of our fellow citizens to carry out the responsibilities of citizenship that we are all asked to fulfill. For those ex-prisoners who wish to contribute to our Commonwealth and have paid their societal debt for their crimes, we should make the rights restoration process as simple as possible.

  1. Richard Ong says:

    So let me get this straight. The flag ship post on a conservative black site is an argument in favor of ensuring the Democrat voter rolls get a boost from a minuscule portion ex-felons who qualify under the restoration statutes? Do you really see this population as being a source of electoral support for Republican or conservative policies?

    You also haven’t shown in what way Mr. Anderson has qualified for restoration or why I should believe that a convicted burglar really cares that much about exercising the franchise. People who commit burglary in my mind are people who ipso facto don’t give a darn about society. As for burglary’s being a non-violent offense, well, it can be but only by the grace of God. Bank robbery can be non-violent but it, like burglary, evidences a depraved, highly anti-social way of thinking. (The crime of burglary can, by definition, involve something a lot less than prowling a stranger’s house with a tire iron or worse, but it sure heck is an intolerable violation of the one place in which every person has a right to feel safe from strangers).

    So, burglary is a gross violation of someone else’s sense of security and property rights that leaves them feeling used and vulnerable. The proof of his change of heart ought to be pretty darn convincing and the Virginia requirements seem to proceed from that same point. Before you downplay his recent troubles as just a few speeding tickets, you need to focus more on the nature of the crime, the mindset necessary to commit that crime, and whether there is in fact strong evidence of a contrition. I say feformation before restoration, as does the Commonwealth, and you’ve not made your case for Anderson.

    We all speed from time to time and I have pleaded to one speeding violation (with the cop waiting at the bottom of a hill). But . . . I that’s my only speeding conviction in 54 years of driving and if I were really that interested in having my rights restored I sure as heck wouldn’t speed right now.

    I’m thinking Anderson isn’t that interested in restoration and that black conservatives would be wise not to expend capital on such a peripheral issue. One that’s right out of the leftist playbook I might add. And do.

  2. Coby Dillard says:

    Mr. Anderson’s case was used as an example of-at least to me-something that doesn’t make sense. From all the accounts I’ve read, he seems to have lived his life after prison within the law, with the exception of the speeding tickets.

    I don’t think we’re in that much disagreement here. I agree with you that the proof of any ex-prisoners change of mindset should be extremely convincing. The nature of the crime is something that’s already taken into consideration, as is whether all retribution-be that fines or anything else ordered by the court-has been made.

    The recommendations I’ve made, as far as what could show that, aren’t even requirements under Virginia law. I believe they speak a lot more to a person’s character than just serving time, paying fines, and staying out of trouble. Responsible citizenship requires a contribution to society, not just keeping your nose clean.

    We as Republicans have to live up to those words from our creed that are heard or recited just about every week across Virginia. If you want to put the politics into it, it may well not give us an electoral advantage. The other side is that it’s an issue we can take to the inner cities-where a lot of ex-felons are-and hold up as an example of Republicans actually taking action on something that affects them. How many issues can we do that with now? Politics aside, I’m more interested in doing what’s right and what makes sense. This-at least to me-is both.

    During the campaign, I ran into a gentleman who had started his own welding business and worked in the shipyards here. Fairly successful; had just recently landed another contract. He was also an ex-prisoner who couldn’t vote. For people like that-who have checked the correct boxes and can show that they have become responsible citizens, we should remove the obstacles to them being such-as our creed says.

  3. Jaded says:

    I don’t have a problem with this at all and I don’t believe that ex-felons are naturally a D vote as most had drug or alcohol problems that got them in trouble and I as an active member of AA can tell you it is a fairly Conservative live and let live bunch…so it is such a small minority of people and if those people go through the process of working hard and being an upstanding member of society I agree 60-90 should be ALL that is required. The decision is not that complicated and I personally think a reformed felon who DESIRES to VOTE is probably one of the better members of society!

  4. I believe that the black conservatives are on the right path. The truth is from a historical perspective, it has been the Republican Party who has led the fight for civil rights in America. There is no doubt that this issue is one of the last bastions of the Jim Crow era. The numbers don’t lie and the images of those who are denied these rights don’t lie either. The majority of those denied full citizenship rights and whose families still suffer from this stigmatization are African Americans. Sadly, Jim Crow still stands in America. And with no true direction for the Republican Party this issue could be the one that liberates them from the images of the extreme Right-wing factions of the Party.

    Imagine if the Republicans take the lead in restoring the rights of the formerly incarcerated while the Democrats simply look on. The Republicans would capture enough votes from the African American community to ensure enough seats to control both Houses. My generation holds the key. The truth is, my generation (Hip Hop Generation) is not as loyal to the Democrats as our parents were. We are not party loyal, but issue loyal; and I believe that some Republicans have come realize this. Some have not and its unfortunate for the Republican Party and this nation that a few archaic thinkers can control so many who desire change.

    In this last election (2009), many of my friends voted for Bob McDonnell because in our discussion we believed that Creigh Deeds and the Democratic ticket took our votes for granted. I believe that the Republican Party, starting here in Virginia, will lead the party in “rebranding” itself starting with issues such as this. It will be interesting to see if Governor Tim Kaine who is running from this issue will also run from the issue on the national level as he becomes the face of the DNC. If Governor-elect McDonnell makes the decision Governor Kaine refuses to make (restore the voting rights of ex-offenders) he will ensure the return of the Republican dominance in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    This is a great opportunity to move this nation forward and fulfill the constitution, simultaneously!

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