In November 2018, something amazing happened in the criminal justice movement. Florida restored voting rights to felons (excluding murderers and felony sex offenders, but I’ll take it) who have completed all the terms of sentence including parole or probation. So who lead the movement for this landmark change? The governor? The state legislature? The Miami Dolphins? Nope. Florida voters. And not by a small margin either. 64.55% of them voted overwhelmingly for Amendment 4, the ballot initiative which restored these rights. And that is why I argue Virginia voters need to have them too.
Currently, the only thing like a ballot initiative are local voter-led referendums in Virginia. If you want a state level referendum in Virginia though, first the lawmakers of the General Assembly must approve one that will then be voted on by the voters. It’s the classic Hobson’s choice: Voters can have any law they want…as long as the state politicians want it too. This needs to change so we can have real change in the criminal justice system here in Virginia.
I remember reading in 2017 a poll conducted by one of the Virginia’s universities. They asked Virginians if they supported restoring parole in Virginia and over 70% of Virginians– including over 60% of Virginia Republicans– support restoring parole. And this statistic bears out when you look at other national polls.
In a November 2017 ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice, a survey showed 71% of Americans agree that long-term incarceration is counterproductive because their are not any effective rehabilitation programs in prisons. They also found that another 71% supported reducing the prison population. Even if you broke them down by political affiliation, the majority of each one supports this: 87% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 57% of Republicans.
So why hasn’t parole been restored yet in the Old Dominion? You know why. We’ll suffer this together. Say it with me…
I’ll wait a minute or two so you can go rinse your mouth out. That word leaves an awful taste in my mouth too.
So how do we get ballot initiatives, bypass the politicians, and restore parole? Well that’s a little tricky.
To get ballot initiatives in VA you must first get the politicians to vote on a law that will allow Virginians to have ballot initiatives.
I know. I know. It seems like a Catch-22, but getting politicians to vote against their self-interests has happened before. They recently voted to allow Virginians to vote on a referendum to mandate that voting districts be set up by an independent commission, so it can happen. You just have to bug the crap out of them.
Now, once they bow to the unstoppable force that is the Virginia voter and pass this law, have people put forth ballot initiatives that will bypass the General Assembly and pass criminal justice reform measures, including parole.
Hurray! The prisoners of VA will rejoice and shout, “We’ve got parole! We’ve got parole!”
But will the parole board grant it to us?
Hell if I know.
To contact me by mail:
Joshua Wood #1189105
Buckingham Correctional Center
PO Box 430
Dillwyn, VA 23936
Please check out Virginia DOC’s policies regarding mail on their website before sending a letter. They can be very particular.
You can also use the name and state number above to contact me through email via jpay.