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McDonnell looks for ways to speed up rights restoration process

Anita Kumar

As Gov. Bob McDonnell looks to make good on his campaign promise to restore the civil rights of felons faster than any previous governor in recent history, he asked legislators to expand the Virginia Parole Board, which is responsible for conducting the applicants' background checks.

McDonnell (R) is revamping the system for felons to have their rights restored as he works to process every application within 90 days. He said he will announce the changes in the next few weeks.

The GOP-controlled House approved McDonnell's proposed budget amendment, but the Democratic-controlled Senate narrowly rejected the change at the General Assembly's one-day reconvened session Wednesday.

That means the Parole Board will probably still consist of a full-time chairman and two part-time members. The governor had wanted three full-time board members, including the chairman, and two part-time members.

Former governor L. Douglas Wilder (D), the country's first elected black governor, tells my colleague Rosalind Helderman in an interview that he thinks that the legislature needs to change the rights restoration process, but suggests that the Parole Board also could get involved. "What else are they doing?" he asks.

McDonnell recently suggested that he may ask non-violent felons to submit an essay outlining their contributions to society since their release -- a requirement that met opposition from a variety of black leaders and civil rights groups.

"The bottom line is there ought to be something put through the legislature that changes it from being the sole responsibility of the governor, when you consider all these other things the governor has to do," Wilder said.

By Anita Kumar  |  April 22, 2010; 3:57 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Robert F. McDonnell , State Senate  
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That's funny, I never read anywhere before that the Parole Board was responsible for doing the background checks on rights restoration applicants.

Aside from the dwindling number of inmates sentenced before Virginia abolished parole in the 90's, the only ones still eligible for parole are those sentenced under an obscure law known as the Youthful Offender Act, which only admits fifty people at a time. And even then, it's not as though the board goes out of their way to evaluate people. It's not like Shawshank Redemption where the inmate gets to sit before the board and plead his case. They simply pick up the file and then usually reject it "due to the nature of the crime."

I'm in support of any measure to increase the number of people conducting background checks for applications for restoration of rights, as long as it is done fairly and provided they don't use traffic tickets as a reason to reject applications. The application states that you must have no misdemeanors for three years prior to applying; most traffic tickets aren't misdemeanors.

Posted by: franko2 | April 22, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

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