Criminal Justice Reform and Rights Restoration in Virginia: a Guide to Pestering your Legislators

Virginia’s General Assembly is in session! While demanding action from your legislators is fun, it’s not always super easy. Our legislative process is baroque at best, and often designed in such a way that it’s hard to know how to even start demanding the change you want to see. We have 45 days to make it happen.

In order to do that there are three things we need to know: why this matters, what bills are up for vote, and what committees will hand those bills off to the House or to the Senate. Details are below, let me know if anything needs added or adjusted!

Why This Matters

  • Rights Restoration and Criminal Justice Reform are issues nationwide, but they especially high stakes in Virginia. VA is a “Tough on Crime” state, with some of the harshest criminal justice laws in the country. Our state has in effect three of the most questionable policies of the tough on crime era–mandatory sentencing minimums, abolition of parole, and felony voter disenfranchisement–operating alongside a policy that, as far as I know, is uniquely punitive: our infamous 21-day rule. For an overview of Virginia’s criminal justice policy, see this briefing sheet from the Justice Policy Initiative.
  • Here is an excellent pdf primer of voter disenfranchisement from The Sentencing Project.
  • This article in the New York Times summarizes the racist origins of felony voter disenfranchisement. Here is a similar piece from The Atlantic.

Committees and legislators

Right now most of these bills are in committee, so you need to contact committee members, not your local representatives. Here is a  meeting schedule for all committees in the 2017 session. These meetings are generally open to the public, and will often have space for public comment. Even if you miss a meeting you can still write all committee members on the legislation they’re hearing. When a bill passes through committee I’ll note below. Then it’s time to contact your legislators!

All the minutes all the minutes for the House are here and the Senate are here. You can find your legislator here.

Bills – Criminal Justice Reform

SUPPORT: The four bills below are the bare minimum reform needed to address oversights in prior reforms. Sadly, these four bills do not make Virginia less tough on crime, but they do the bare minimum to bring existing codes into alignment.

Bills – Rights Restoration

SUPPORT: These bills will increase easy voting access for disenfranchised citizens.

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OPPOSE: These bills make voting harder, restoration of rights slower, or more expensive.

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