VA bureaucracy obstructs civil rights for ex-cons

From Anita Kumar, The Washington Post:

RICHMOND – Linwood Christian, 43, a nonviolent felon who left prison in 2002, thought he had done everything he needed to have his civil rights restored when he filled out a simple one-page application in January.

But two months later, he received a notice from Virginia requiring that he write a personal letter to Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell explaining why he thought his rights should be restored after a pair of felony convictions.

The busy single dad says he was frustrated at the new hurdle but typed up one page and faxed it the day before the deadline. He has heard nothing since, with his application apparently caught in what has become an uncertain process.

This year, more than 200 nonviolent felons received a notice from the secretary of the commonwealth requiring that they write such a letter to the governor by April 1. In mid-April, McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin told The Washington Post that the notices had been sent in error, but applicants said last week they had not been told that they were a mistake. Martin said 95 percent of those who received the request wrote letters by the deadline.

In 39 states, including Maryland, and the District, voting rights are automatically restored after a felon completes a prison sentence, probation or parole. But under Virginia’s constitution, people convicted of a felony automatically lose the right to vote, serve on a jury or own a gun. A governor can restore those rights to felons who appear to have redeemed themselves.

McDonnell is overhauling the restoration system as he tries to figure out how to deliver on a campaign promise to process every application within 90 days, considerably faster than any other administration in recent history.

The governor is considering a host of changes, including requiring nonviolent felons to submit a letter to him outlining their contributions to society since their release. But he has faced a barrage of criticism from black legislators and civil rights groups who say that poor, less educated or minority residents would be unable or unlikely to write the letter.

In Christian’s letter, he told the governor that he had stolen money from the Disabled American Veterans thrift store where he worked so he could get high but turned himself in to police the next morning. He wrote that he works as a case manager for a nonprofit group in Petersburg that helps HIV/AIDS patients, serves as the president of the PTA at his 14-year-old son’s school and attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

“Why would restoring my rights be justified?” he wrote. “My faith in a system that everyone told me doesn’t work for me, especially being a black man, would be restored.”

Continue to the full article at The Washington Post website.