Formerly Incarcerated Citizens and Civil / Political Disability
By Danny Ray Thomas
When returning citizens reenter society, probation and parole expects us to immediately find employment and begin the process of developing as productive citizens. Our paychecks have the same withholdings just as anyone else in the workforce. By April 15th of every year, we’re required to have our taxes filed, and if we’re lucky we’ll get a refund. In other instances, we’re told we owe money or funds are withheld for child support or other debts the state or federal government have made claims to.
What has always concerned me is the fact that we can be taxed as anyone else without restoration, yet we cannot vote without permission. Our tax dollars will assist in funding schools and first responders, ironically our tax dollars also pay the probation officer who’ll violate us and send us back to prison where our taxes will also pay the corrections officers and prison officials who’ll stand watch over us.
Well after incarcerated citizens complete their sentence, we remain “civilly disabled.” Why is it that we lose the right to determine which legislators and other politicians determine what’s best for the communities we live in? This is clearly “retribution,” which is considered one of the (4) four goals of incarceration, the other three being, societal protection, deterrence, and punishment. In some instances, the Courts have referenced “rehabilitation” as a fifth, but refuting that fallacy would be encyclopedic in length.
In any event, we remain “civiliter mortuus” (civilly dead) to the state which not only impacts our right to vote on the local level. Clearly this makes no sense. Again, we don’t have to prove ourselves to pay taxes yet we must do so to vote. I’d love to hear Governor Youngkin’s answer to this question; better yet, I’d like to be a fly on the wall when he’s discussing this issue behind closed doors!
Governor Youngkin is empowered to remove what the Courts refer to as “political disabilities,” but not all rights lost as a result of a felony conviction, for instance, the jurisdiction to restore firearm rights lost in those circumstances is vested in the circuit court. The Virginia Constitution allows the Governor of Virginia to individually restore political rights of convicted felons without judicial review, see the
Va. Constitution article V, section 12.
Restoration of the right to vote, hold public office, to serve on a jury, or be notary public does not constitute an inherent danger to public safety or does it? Maybe this is true for those in power that realize the power of the formerly incarcerated citizen.We all know that old addage “givem an inch they’ll take a mile!
Today we’ll vote, tomorrow we’ll serve on a jury, the day after we’ll hold public office. Neither aspiration of serving on a jury or holding public office can occur without the initial ability to vote. If they nullify our ability to vote, they also nullify our ability to have a direct impact on the system. It’s obvious which side of the aisle the ‘formerly incarcerated citizen’ stands on, can someone say “Progressive!”
In 2016, Governor Terry McAullife used his executive power to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 former prisoners in response to campaigns to end felony disenfranchisement. “I remain committed to moving past our Commonwealth’s history of injustice to embrace an honest process for restoring the rights of our citizens,” the governor said.”The struggle for civil rights has always been a long and difficult journey but the fight goes on.Unfortunately, republicans challenged the Governor’s executive order to The Virginia Supreme Court and the court determined that Governor McAuliffe did not have the authority to restore these rights without an individual application by each petitioner. Howell v. McAullife , 292 Va. 320.
The opposition to the restoration of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated has created an attitude of pessimism and defeat in many. My message to them is simple, “If voting doesn’t matter, why do they fight so hard to keep you from participating in the process?”
D Ray Thomas, Green Rock Correctional, #1054249
My name is Danny Ray Thomas and I’ve been incarcerated for 21 years. I am from Pittsylvania county just outside of Danville, Va. I currently reside at Green Rock Correctional and I work as the Treatment aide. I work with counselors teaching anger management, thinking for a change, victim impact and ready to work.I am an activist and mentor in this community of men. I’m not one who’d shy away from the struggle we face, instead I embrace it. I’ve written for the “unlocked project,” a collaboration between the Coalition for Justice and Virginia Tech. I’ve also written for NYU ‘s review of law and social change publication called “The Harbinger,” my piece with them is called “The Calamity of Sentencing in Virginia” which can be found at http://www.socialchangenyu.com.I am also a part of NYU’s “Jailhouse Lawyer’s Initiative. Needless to say I am a student of this movement against mass incarceration and I look forwarded to collaborating with anyone who feels the same as I do.