RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Governor Ralph Northam has restored the civil rights of more than 69,000 Virginians.
The governor announced Tuesday, March 16, that any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision.
“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said in Tuesday’s statement. “We are a commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past. If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that.”
Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm.
Northam’s new policy will restore all of those rights, except the right to carry a firearm.
“We’re a commonwealth that believes in second chances,” the governor said at a Tuesday event in Richmond. “And we believe in forgiveness. We want people to move forward, not be tied back by the mistakes of their past. This is a way to help them do that.”
There are still unknowns about the new measure. For instance, there’s no demographic data of the over 69,000 Virginians whose rights have been restored, an official told CNN.
Charlottesville’s top prosecutor Joe Platania says it’s about time for this change.
“There’s a long history behind disenfranchising certain types of people that look certain ways, and that’s just a frank and candid conversation that we need to have, that we ought to be having, that we are having,” Platania, the city’s commonwealth’s attorney said. “And I applaud Governor Northam for his actions.”
He says this is just another step in helping people, who served their penalty to society, reintegrate.
“It sends the message that we are welcoming you back into our community,” he said. “You have paid your debt, and now come and re-join the community and build a better life for you and for others.”
During the 2021 General Assembly session, legislators approved a constitutional amendment that affirms the right to vote and automatically restores the civil rights of any individual, upon completion of their sentence of incarceration. The constitutional amendment has to be passed again by the General Assembly in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.
For more information on restoration of rights, visit restore.virginia.gov.