(CNN) By Caroline Kelly
Newly sworn-in Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear restored voting rights for over 140,000 former felons in the state through an executive order, his office announced Thursday.
“My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches forgiveness and that is why I am restoring voting rights to over one hundred forty thousand Kentuckians who have done wrong in the past, but are doing right now,”
Beshear, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I want to lift up all of our families and I believe we have a moral responsibility to protect and expand the right to vote.”
Read the full CNN article here.
California is moving to end the practice of allowing private companies to capitalize on mass incarceration.Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law Friday that bans private, for-profit prisons and immigrant detention centers in the state. The decision comes amid growing consensus around the need to end private incarceration in the U.S.
“It’s really important to pass this bill because it protects the health, safety and welfare of Californians,” says Rob Bonta, the California assemblyman who wrote the bill. “And we know from study after study that in for-profit private prisons and detention centers, Californians are getting hurt.”
The California bill will move to close three privately run prisons in the state, which house nearly 1,400 inmates, when their contracts with the state expire in four years, according to Reuters.
“[Private prison companies] are chasing the almighty dollar,” Bonta says. “They’re not investing in the Californians in their detention centers. In fact, they’re doing the opposite. They’re divesting.”
Bonta and other supporters of the bill say that for-profit prisons are only looking to maximize profits at the expense of inmate safety.
“The data is indisputable,” Bonta says. “It shows that they have less access to health care, higher levels of escape, higher levels of recidivism, lower staffing, less training for staff, higher numbers of assaults on staff. People have died in these facilities.”
The private prisons that would be impacted are run by GEO Group and CoreCivic, two of the largest private prison companies in the country. The companies say private prisons are necessary in order to house a ballooning number of inmates.
But Bonta says that California is prepared to house all of its inmates without private prisons. In fact, following decades of growth, the percentage of people in American prisons is the lowest it’s been in 20 years. The decline is in part due to criminal justice reform measures at the federal and state level, Bonta says.
California will also not renew its contract with private detention centers that hold immigrants. This amounts to four private facilities that hold nearly 4,000 detainees.
Critics say that after closing the California detention centers, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement will simply move those inmates to other facilities out of state. Bonta says that’s just one possibility.
“With less capacity, maybe they detain less individuals and decide they don’t need to do it,” he says. “Maybe they build their own facilities in California and also maybe they do move individuals out of state, and that’s why I think it’s important that other states act as California has acted.”
Reprinted from “Here and Now”
In recent years, corporations have privatized almost every part of the public prison system. Now, PE firms are swooping in, seeking lavish returns for investors.
By Tim Requarth for The Nation
An in-depth article about the current state of prison profiteering five years after “Outcasts” premiered. To read the entire article, go here.
When the Bellamy Creek correctional facility’s longtime kitchen officer decided to leave in 2014, David Angel requested the position. Angel, who was nearing retirement, had worked at prisons all over Michigan, including stints at three maximum-security facilities. “I wanted a permanent position for my last few years in the department. I had a lot of respect among the prisoner and officer staff, and I thought I could do the job and keep people safe,” he said. “Um… I was wrong.”
To read the entire article, go here.
This article was prepared in 2017 and supported by the signatories listed below the article
Over the past 25 years, community corrections (probation and parole) caseloads have grown exponentially, exceeding 5 million people at their peak, double the number of people in prison and jail in America. Designed originally as an alternative to incarceration, community corrections has become a significant contributor to mass incarceration with nearly as many people entering prison for violations of community corrections conditions as for new offenses.
Due to this high volume, public resources for community corrections have been stretched, fostering large caseloads and inadequate programming and, in some cases, forcing community corrections agencies to rely on fees from impoverished clients for their very existence.
Fortunately, increasingly sophisticated research has shown that we can responsibly reduce probation and parole populations. Research shows that people on community corrections can be incentivized by earning time off of probation for exemplary behavior such as securing a job, stable housing, or earning a degree; that supervising people who present a low risk of rearrest increases recidivism; and that the impact of supervision wanes after a few years.
As such, as America’s leading probation and parole officials and other concerned individuals and organizations, we believe it is possible to both significantly reduce the footprint of probation and parole and improve outcomes and public safety. Numerous jurisdictions have reduced the number of people on probation and parole and have instead focused supervision on those most in need of it and only for the time period they require supervision without negatively impacting public safety.
Towards this end, we recommend that the number of people on probation and parole supervision in America be significantly reduced by: Reserving the use of community corrections for only those who truly require supervision.
• Reducing lengths of stay under community supervision to only as long as necessary to accomplish the goals of sentencing.
• Exercising parsimony in the use of supervision conditions to no more conditions than required to achieve the objectives of supervision.
• Incentivizing progress on probation and parole by granting early discharge for those who exhibit significant progress.
• Eliminating or significantly curtailing charging supervision fees and instead,
• Preserving most or all of the savings from reducing probation and parole populations and focusing those resources on improving community based services and supports for people under supervision.
Signatories for this article are:
Community Corrections Executives
- Jerry Adger, Director, South Carolina Probation Parole and Pardon Services
- Ana Bermúdez, Probation Commissioner, New York City Probation
- David Birch, Chief, Probation and Parole Division, Idaho Department of Correction
- Barbara Broderick, Chief Probation Officer, Maricopa County, AZ
- •Susan Burke, Director, Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services
- •Joseph Clocker, Director, Maryland Division of Parole and Probation
- Chester Cooper, Director, Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections & Rehabilitation
- Hope Cooper, Deputy Secretary, Community and Field Services, Kansas Department of Corrections
- Ron Corbett, Former Commissioner, Massachusetts Probation Service
- Howard F. Delaney, Director of Probation, Spokane Municipal Court
- Ed Dolan, Commissioner, Massachusetts Probation Service
- Karen Fletcher, Chief Adult Probation Officer, City and County of San Francisco
- Adolfo Gonzales, Chief Probation Officer , San Diego County Probation
- Christy Gutherz, Deputy Commissioner, Community Corrections, Mississippi Department of Corrections
- Marcus Hodges, Associate Director, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia
- James Hudspeth, Director, Adult Probation and Parole, State of Utah Department of Corrections
- •Michael Jacobson, Former Probation Commissioner, New York City Probation
- Julie Kempker, Chief State Supervisor with Probation and Parole, Missouri Department of Corrections
- John Klavins, Community Corrections Director, Ramsey County Community Corrections (MN)
- David Koch, Chief Probation Officer, Sonoma County Probation Department
- Terri McDonald, Chief Probation Officer, Los Angeles County, CA
- David Muhammad, Former Chief Probation Officer, Alameda County, CA
- Michael Nail, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Community Supervision
- •Paul O’Connell, Operations Director, Community Corrections, Arizona Department of Corrections
- James Payne, Former Probation Commissioner, New York City Probation
- Rocco A. Pozzi, Commissioner, Westchester County (NY) Probation Department
- David F. Sanders, Chief Probation Officer, Pima County (AZ) Adult Probation Department
- Frank Scherer, Director, Allegheny County Adult Probation and Parole
- Vincent Schiraldi, Former Probation Commissioner, New York City Probation
- Wendy Still, Chief Probation Officer, Alameda County, CA
- Jeremiah Stromberg, Assistant Director, Community Corrections, Oregon Department of Corrections
- Javed Syed, Director, Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections (Adult Probation) Department
- Scott Taylor, Director, Multnomah County (OR) Department of Community Justice
- Leslie (Barney) Tomanek, Director, North Dakota Parole and Probation
- Nancy Ware, Director, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia
- Alliance for Safety and Justice
- American Civil Liberties Union
- American Conservative Union Federation
- American Probation and Parole Association
- Association of Paroling Authorities International
- Association of State Correctional Administrators
- Brennan Center
- Common Justice
- Center for Court Innovation
- Center for Justice at Columbia University
- Fortune Society
- International Community Corrections Association
- The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
- Justice Policy Institute
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies
- National Association of Probation Executives
- New York City Criminal Justice Agency
- Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, University of Minnesota Law School
- The Sentencing Project
- Vera Institute of Justice
- John Chisholm, District Attorney, Milwaukee
- George Gascon, District Attorney, San Francisco County
- Mark Holden, General Counsel, Koch Industries
- •Van Jones, CNN Host, President of The Dream Corps, & co-founder of #cut50
- Piper Kerman, Author
- George M. Keiser, CEO, Keiser and Associates
- John Legend, Singer-Songwriter/Actor/Producer
- Karol Mason President, John Jay University, former Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs
- Ronal Serpas, Chairman, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration
- Shelley Szambelan, Presiding Judge, Spokane Municipal Court
- Steven Tompkins, Sheriff, Suffolk County, MA
- Bruce Western, Chair, Executive Session on Community Corrections, Harvard Kennedy School
After months of financial uncertainly and anonymous allegations that began in 2018, the John R. Hay House, one of only 20 Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) community corrections programs in the state, has opted not to renew its contract, which ends June 30, 2019.
The non-profit, faith-based facility opened in 1984 to provide residential treatment for misdemeanor male offenders. Since then, its United Way funded programs have expanded to include the Brown Annex for men and the Hosanna House for women. In 1989, just five years after TDOC launched its statewide community corrections program to ease overcrowded jails and prisons as well as reduce the high rate of recidivism, Hay House was awarded a state contract to provide community corrections services for Sullivan County Criminal Courts in the First Judicial District, East Tennessee. Located in Kingsport, Hay House currently supervises 483 offenders. Statewide, there are more than 5,000 offenders under community corrections supervision.
The Hay House Board of Director’s decision not to renew its TDOC contract was not made easily, and followed months of financial uncertainty and damaging allegations.
Since the fall of 2018, TDOC’s monthly reimbursements were inexplicably withheld for November, December, and January. (Hay House has since received those payments, but February and March 2019 are still outstanding.) The lagging reimbursement cycle, which affected the financial health of all 20 community corrections agencies, was attributed to TDOC’s recent reimbursement documentation requirement changes, which were finally explained in late February during an hour-long TDOC conference call with all 20 agencies at once.
A few weeks earlier, Hay House—already shaken by financial hardship and a dwindling line of credit at the bank—was the target of an unscheduled visit from TDOC auditors accompanied by armed officers. According to their contract, the TDOC can conduct an audit or inspection at any time without warning, but according to witnesses present, this was the first time it felt like a hostile raid. Staff and employees were mirandized and interrogated, male and female residents were strip searched and drug tested, files, computers, data storage flash sticks and hard drives were confiscated. The ordeal lasted well into the evening. So far, Hay House has received no explanation for the investigation, which is still ongoing.
The dust had hardly settled when anonymous allegations were made to Kingsport’s United Way that Hay House administration was using UW funds inappropriately and mistreating its staff. On February 19, the United Way invited Hay House board members to hear the specific allegations, none of which were substantiated with proof. Nevertheless, the underlying message from UW’s leadership seemed clear to most board members: Hay House needs to clean up its act, or risk losing funding. Most members came away from the meeting feeling defeated, one person commented, “We’re fighting a losing battle.”
On April 2, a dispirited board asked Hay House’s attorney to issue a formal notification to the TDOC, the United Way, and the presiding Sullivan County drug court judge, that Hay House would no longer be in the community corrections business after June.
The future economic, social, and cultural impact of Hay House’s closing on the Kingsport community and Sullivan County residents has yet to be calculated. Meanwhile, its jails are still overcrowded. To meet the increasing needs, more facilities will need to be built and manned, all at great expense—and the lives of nearly 500 offenders will be lost in the system.
I was a bit anxious… getting the kids to school about 10 minutes earlier than normal required all the moving parts to stay synchronized. Whew. Got them dropped. School traffic lightens up as I leave town. I’m careful to stay within the speed limit, then slowing when I pass through one remote school zone on the highway before I turn off.
I make this familiar drive, one that I drove just 8 days ago when I took my friend to court for a probation appearance. She rode with me that morning to take the kids to school and then we went to Blountville. No time for breakfast. We arrived in the courtroom about 10 minutes till 9. With only a 15-minute recess, we sat and waited for her name to be called until 5 minutes before noon. And that’s when the surprise “sealed” indictment was opened, charges read, and within 15 minutes she was gone.
But today, I arrive 20 minutes early for my visit, carefully re-reading the visitor instructions on my phone, getting my identification, pen and paper. I walk through the door that reads “Public Entrance” and timidly step inside. No one is there to acknowledge my arrival.
To my right is a single door. Three pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 size papers are curled at the edges and taped to the wall with instructions for visitors. I walk inside a narrow block-walled room with concrete floors, a row of six metal monitors installed on the right within those blocks, some folding chairs leaning up against the far wall. I find “my” computer terminal number, grab a chair and get ready to sit down. But with flu season upon us and so many sick, I hesitate. I decide to go out to my vehicle and get a Clorox wipe. I bring 3 for the other two visitors as well, which they accept gratefully.
I try to log-in with my unique visitor PIN number but the system won’t accept it. I must wait until within 60 seconds of my scheduled time. I wait.
Then I log in. Two bright lights shine on my face and the warning that I will be monitored and recorded. I can see myself in the lower left of the screen. Well… I can see “part” of myself. I’m only visible from the nose up. Most of the image is of the formerly used “glass” visiting booths when you would see your incarcerated loved one through a glass. Although you could not touch them, at least it was face-to-face. I’m unsure of this video system.
Ten minutes of my visit has passed. The gentleman at terminal 5 is also waiting for his friend. The lady at terminal 4 is talking with her family member. Yes, we can hear her. Not that we are eaves-dropping, but there is no privacy, no barriers, nothing except a row of chairs sitting in front of a wall. Weird.
The video visiting system was a pain from the beginning. The company website had intermittent service. I had difficulty logging in after I registered. I had to do one of those “live help chats” and have the password reset. Visits are free if you go up to the jail and use their terminals; costly if you visit from anywhere off-site. Finally I was able to login and schedule my visit.
It was two days later as I was eating supper with my father that I got the message of my visit being cancelled. What? My loved one has been moved and my visit was cancelled automatically. I called the jail right away. The officer said that the system does that when someone moves from a holding cell into regular population or when someone is release. Had she been released? He wasn’t supposed to tell me, but he looked it up and said, no.
I took that opportunity to ask a couple more questions about the visitation. All visits must be scheduled at least 24-hours in advance. No visits are in-person, all are video screen. I asked about mail, packages, and commissary. I was told that photos are only accepted during four months of the year. No packages are accepted at all. The jail gives them everything they need he said. What about underwear? Yes, we give them underwear. She wants some socks. We give them socks. If they need anything, they can purchase it at the commissary. I wondered how much things cost at the commissary? And I wondered if someone preferred boxers or briefs? or needed a certain type of material? or maybe they were cold and wanted long underwear? Each of my wonderings was answered with a silent “you’re in jail, not a resort” or “you’re in jail, what do you expect?” from my conflicted mind.
When I got home, I went to my computer to reschedule my visit, but the first available day did not have any open appointment times. The second available day did not have any appointment times either. So I had to schedule it for the third day, and my only option was early morning. Thus my drive out to Blountville at 7:45am for my early morning visit. Still waiting.
The lady at terminal 4 is wrapping up her conversation and says goodbye. She asks the gentleman at 5 if he would like her to go ask about his visitor and he says yes. When she comes back into the narrow room, she relays that the officer knows nothing about why an inmate did not show up for a visit… perhaps they were asleep, no they do not wake them, but he has no idea. I wonder if she even knows I’m here to visit? How would she know? Since there’s no approved list of visitors… since there’s no movement of “going to” visitation… what exactly is happening? Hey, I’m waiting here… still waiting for my visit… wake up!
Number 5’s time is up and he leaves, thanks me again for the clorox wipe. Two gals come in and sit next to me at terminal 2. They have no idea what they are doing, it’s obviously their first time also. They can’t logon. One goes out, comes back, and they both move down to terminal 5. They logon and start their visit.
An older man comes in and sits at terminal 3. He’s been here before. He goes straight to pick out his chair, sits till the clock ticks over, and then signs in. The lights come on and he starts chatting with his family member.
Yes, I’m still here. Where are you?
My time is ticking by and almost gone. I’m afraid to leave… just in case. I don’t want to “not” be there if she comes online. How horrible would that be? Are you not worth waiting for? Ugh. I wish I knew something… anything!
My lights go off suddenly and I realize that my 30-minutes worth of visit has been completed.
Public Safety Act of 2016
In 2014, Governor Haslam established a Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety. The task force included stakeholders from across Tennessee and produced a report last year detailing recommendations to reduce crime and address the growth of the prison and jail population. Many of these recommendations were included in the recently announced multi-year public safety action plan developed by the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet. The Public Safety Act of 2016 seeks to codify several of these action steps.
Why are these changes to Tennessee’s public safety laws needed?
The Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet has identified key areas that are driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate, and this legislation would establish mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of these most serious offenses as well as taking additional steps to protect victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 5,061 – or 40 percent – were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. The bill would retool community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations when noncompliance doesn’t rise to the level of a new criminal offense.
What are the key components of the bill?
Addressing Domestic Violence
This legislation would allow a law enforcement officer, with the consent of the victim, to seek an order of protection on behalf of a domestic abuse victim. Additionally, if a law enforcement officer makes an arrest for a crime involving domestic abuse, then an automatic order of protection would be issued when there is probable cause to believe that the alleged assailant used or attempted to use deadly force against a domestic violence victim. A hearing would be held within 15 days of the automatic order of protection being issued.
A third and subsequent domestic violence conviction would become a Class E felony under this legislation. Third and subsequent domestic violence convictions are currently a misdemeanor. This proposed change would maintain the current minimum 90-day sentence for a domestic violence conviction.
Smart Changes in Sentencing
The Act would change the felony thresholds for property theft for a Class A misdemeanor, Class E felony and a Class D felony.
- Class A Misdemeanor: Current $500, Proposed $1000
- Class E Felony: Current $500-$1000, Proposed $1000 to $2500
- Class D Felony: Current $1000 to $10,000, Proposed $2500 to $10000
The legislation would also set the mandatory minimum period of incarceration to 85% for third and subsequent convictions for aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and Class A, B, and C felonies for the sale, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances.
Ensuring Offenders are Properly Evaluated
This legislation would make a “validated risk and needs assessment,” designed by the Department of Correction, part of an offender’s presentence report and an item the judge must consider when sentencing a defendant. The legislation would require the department to conduct an updated validated risk and needs assessment at least annually for each offender under the department’s supervision.
Instituting Swift, Certain and Proportionate Sanctions
Sending offenders back to prison for violating supervision conditions when the violation is not a new criminal offense—particularly for non-compliant behavior such as missing appointments—is an expensive and ineffective means of addressing offender misconduct. Moreover, spending time in jail or prison can increase the risk of future offending, rather than decrease it.
The use of swift, certain and proportionate responses to non-criminal rule-breaking is a key component of an effective strategy to change behavior. The use of both sanctions for non-compliance and positive reinforcements for compliance has been shown to be a powerful tool in successful supervision, supporting positive behavior change and reducing recidivism.
This legislation would authorize the department to utilize a robust, structured matrix of both sanctions and incentives to facilitate compliance with the conditions of supervision by the more than 71,000 state probationers and parolees. Non-compliant behavior would result in the imposition of a proportionate sanction as a mechanism to return the probationer or parolee to compliance with supervision conditions. Sanctions would include, for instance, drug testing and rehabilitative interventions.
The use of graduated sanctions would be included as a condition of probation by the court with jurisdiction over the case. The sanctions system would also apply to persons released on parole.
EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute in Cleveland, Ohio is a unique approach at giving formerly-incarcerated adults a foundation in the hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary for a successful reentry.
Started by Brandon Chrostowski, a former prisoner, who got a second chance while on probation from a mentoring chef named George. Watching as friends and family cycled in and out of the justice system, like a merry go round, Chrostowski learned culinary arts and the art of hospitality from George so well that he moved to Hyde Park, New York and enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America. Success followed, from great restaurants like Charlie Trotters in Chicago to a Michelin 3 star in France as well as the elite in NYC.
The lessons Chrostowski learned on his journeys are found throughout EDWINS, including the philosophy of “making it happen with what you have” (Chicago),”hard work has no language”( Paris), it’s not “practice that makes perfect rather perfect practice makes perfect” and “investing in yourself before someone will invest in you” (NYC).
For more about EDWINS please visit http://edwinsrestaurant.org
My name is Patricia Lefler, and I am a small business owner, a nature enthusiast, a mother, a Christian, a college graduate, and last, because it is the least, I am a convicted felon.
I began working for myself in the fall of 2013, and named my business, ‘Junkyard Revival’ Landscape Management, after an Annual Women’s Outreach Event I started that same year in Kingsport, Tn.
With a past record, the 4-year college degree I once earned became useless in helping me to gain the employment I needed to live a self-sustaining, productive life. Starting my own business was the sensible solution.
For over 5 years, through hard work and a commitment to give back, I have been rebuilding my life in this community. Recently, I entered my business in the Fedex Small Business Grant Contest.
I am searching for those who believe in the idea of a business giving good paying work opportunities to those individuals with a criminal ‘past’. If you are in that group, I ask you to please go to the link below, and vote for Junkyard Revival Landscape Management.
Whether in my personal life, or in my business, the message of Junkyard Revival is similar. Our “junk” can be cleaned up. Society can only define us (convicted “felon”), and set limitations on what we can achieve, IF we allow them to.
I not only believe in second chances, I am continuing to live mine…and that’s what I want for other people. Thank you for your time, my friends.
WASHINGTON — Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action effectively overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.
The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.
Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons. Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life.
In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a newly elected Republican, recently overturned an order enacted by his Democratic predecessor that was similar to the one Mr. McAuliffe signed Friday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a measure to restore voting rights to convicted felons, but Democrats in the state legislature overrode him in February and an estimated 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation can now register to vote.
“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an interview Thursday, previewing the announcement he made on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, just yards from where President Abraham Lincoln once addressed freed slaves. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”
Republicans in the Virginia Legislature have resisted measures to expand voting rights for convicted felons, and Mr. McAuliffe’s action, which he said was justified under an expansive legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority, provoked an immediate backlash. Virginia Republicans issued a statement Friday accusing the governor of “political opportunism” and “a transparent effort to win votes.”
“Those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in society,” said the statement from the party chairman, John Whitbeck. “But there are limits.” He said Mr. McAuliffe was wrong to issue a blanket restoration of rights, even to those who “committed heinous acts of violence.
Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington research organizations, which says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote.
Only two states, Maine and Vermont, have no voting restrictions on felons; Virginia is among four – the others are Kentucky, Florida and Iowa – that have the harshest restrictions.
Friday’s shift in Virginia is part of a national trend toward restoring voter rights to felons, based in part on the hope that it will aid former prisoners’ re-entry into society. Over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
In Kentucky, Mr. Bevin, who took office in November, promptly overturned an executive order issued by his predecessor, Steven L. Beshear, just before he left office. Then, last week, Mr. Bevin signed into law a less expansive measure, allowing felons to petition judges to vacate their convictions, which would enable them to vote.
Previous governors in Florida and Iowa took executive action to ease their lifetime bans, but in each case, a subsequent governor restored the tough rules.
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, said Mr. McAuliffe’s decision would have lasting consequences because it will remain in effect at least until January 2018, when the governor leaves office.
“This will be the single most significant action on disenfranchisement that we’ve ever seen from a governor,” Mr. Mauer said, “and it’s noteworthy that it’s coming in the middle of this term, not the day before he leaves office. So there may be some political heat but clearly he’s willing to take that on, which is quite admirable.”
Myrna Pérez, director of a voting rights project at the Brennan Center, said Mr. McAuliffe’s move was particularly important because Virginia has had such restrictive laws on voting by felons. Still, she said,“Compared to the rest of the country, this is a very middle of the road policy.’’
Ms. Pérez said a number of states already had less restrictive policies than the one announced by Mr. McAuliffe. Fourteen states allow felons to vote after their prison terms are completed even while they remain on parole or probation.
Advocates who have been working with the Virginia governor say they are planning to fan out into Richmond communities Friday to start registering people.
Experts say with the stroke of his pen, Mr. McAuliffe has allowed convicted felons to begin registering to vote, and that their voting rights cannot be revoked — even if a new governor rescinds the order for future released prisoners.
But the move led to accusations that the governor was playing politics; he is a longtime friend of — and fund-raiser for — Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, and former President Bill Clinton.
In the interview, Mr. McAuliffe said that he was not acting for political reasons, and that few people outside his immediate staff knew of his plan. He said he did not consult with Mrs. Clinton or her campaign before making the decision.
The executive order builds on steps the governor had already taken to restore voting rights to 18,000 Virginians since the beginning of his term, and he said he believed his authority to issue the decision was “ironclad.”
Prof. A. E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia School of Law, the principal draftsman of a revised Constitution adopted by Virginia in 1971, agreed, and said the governor had “ample authority.” But Professor Howard, who advised Mr. McAuliffe on the issue, said the move might well be challenged in court. The most likely argument, he said, is that the governor cannot restore voting rights to an entire class of people all at once.
Virginia’s Constitution has prohibited felons from voting since the Civil War; the restrictions were expanded in 1902, as part of a package that included poll taxes and literacy tests.
In researching the provisions, advisers to the governor turned up a 1906 report that quoted Carter Glass, a Virginia state senator, as saying they would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”
Mr. McAuliffe, who took office in 2014 and campaigned to restore voting rights to felons, said that he viewed disenfranchisement as “a remnant of the poll tax” and that he had been “trying to figure out what more I can possibly do.”
The governor’s action Friday will not apply to felons released in the future; his aides say Mr. McAuliffe intends to issue similar orders on a monthly basis to cover people as they are released.
“People have served their time and done their probation,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.’’