Doing More for Felons’ Rights in Virginia
Where is the middle ground for incorporating felons back into society? When should their right to vote be restored, if ever? When should they be allowed to own a firearm again, if ever?
Most importantly, is there a time when, for occupational purposes, they can stop reporting themselves as felons? Felon is a term that carries a significant amount of stigma. This post explains two options many felons now have to help them with job propects.
Ban the Box:
Felons can often find it hard to get job interviews when they have to mark on applications that they have been convicted of a felony. In an effort to give felons a chance to go one step further and possibly win a job in an interview, the “Ban the Box” campaign was started. Ban the Box is a movement that started in 2004 and began by focusing on jobs in the public sector.
As a grassroots movement that has grown bigger over the past 14 years, it has no authority to force businesses to hire felons. It does, however, try to persuade them to remove questions about prior criminal activity from the application.
It has seen modest gains in the number of job applications that have removed these kinds of questions. The hope is that this will give felons the ability to get further in the process of obtaining a job and prevent blanket discrimination against felons as a whole in the job market. This is just one option. And, perhaps it isn't even a prudent option - at least for the potential employer.
Certificates of rehabilitation go one step further than the Ban the Box campaign. Felons are able to go before a judge to attempt to convince the court that he/she has been rehabilitated. The court hearing can include character witnesses and any additional documentation – like a certificate after completing a training program – to support the felon’s claim that he/she is ready to contribute to society in a meaningful way.
The opportunity to receive a certificate of rehabilitation is important. Efforts to “ban the box” or to relax criteria at the state level are helpful on a mass scale. They support all felons, or at least all qualified felons.
The rehabilitational certificate is different in that it is specific to the individual felon. The court, once the certificate is received, provides that individual felon with an endorsement that can be given to any employer. It is a great way for felons to bridge that gap and overcome the unending stigma against that label.
Felons in Virginia:
In January of this year, the Virginia Senate passed legislation to support the “Ban the Box” movement for public sector jobs. Felons in the commonwealth are not asked about prior convictions until after they have been offered a position. It should be noted that this only applies to positions for the government. It does not apply to private sector jobs, meaning that companies are not required to “ban the box.”
The certificate of rehabilitation is not an option in Virginia at this time. This is unfortunate because this would be a much better option for those felons who would otherwise qualify for one. Rather than trying to force businesses to ban the box, felons should be able to prove to the court that they have been rehabilitated. Virginia has been slow to expand the ability of felons to better integrate into society, as was seen in 2016 when then-Governor McAuliffe fought to widen the parameters for felons to have their rights restored.
Most people still do not know that these certificates of rehabilitation exist. Even while the fight continues, it is important to do everything you can up front to avoid needing one. After all, the government is always creating new criminal laws. You can help yourself in this by getting a strong and qualified attorney to defend you in court. If you have a present need, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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