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Tuesday, 17 December 2013 00:34

Civil Rights Groups Re-Launch Virginia “Mobile Justice Tour” to Highlight Voting Rights Restoration, “Ban the Box” Fair Hiring Policies, and More

Written by  Lillie Branch Kennedy

Following the success of their initial series last summer, a coalition of civil rights groups is partnering again for a 10-city tour of Virginia to raise awareness around justice issues that affect people with criminal records, and to provide direct services. Called the Mobile Justice Tour, the event re-launches on Saturday, December 14, with a focus on three key issues: civil rights restoration for citizens with felony convictions, removing questions about an applicant’s criminal background from initial employment forms, and sentencing reform to end mass incarceration in Virginia.

Host organizations for the Mobile Justice Tour include Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD); Bridging the Gap in Virginia; Virginia Organizing; Advancement Project; and Justice Policy Institute. The tour’s second go-around, however, is fueled by ordinary citizens – college students, members of church groups and other individuals across Virginia – who requested additional stops in their cities.
 
“The first Mobile Justice Tour was so successful, it inspired everyday Virginians to reach out to us and proactively bring this information and these resources to their own communities” said RIHD Executive Director and tour co-moderator Lillie Branch-Kennedy. “Last time, in city after city, we found so many people were simply unaware of laws and policies that can empower them. From the new process for automatic voting rights restoration, to the statewide momentum toward ‘ban the box’ employment application reform, folks had no idea about available alternatives for changing their lives. This tour empowered people just by providing the information, and we look forward to hitting the road again.”
 
At each stop of the tour, legal and policy experts will discuss:
 
·      Restoration of Rights: There are two ways for people with felony convictions to get their rights back, depending on whether one’s conviction is classified as “nonviolent” or “violent.” The MJT will explain how to register and apply for both processes, as well as discuss recommendations for further streamlining these policies so they can reach more impacted people.
 
·      “Ban the Box” Employment Application Reform: Since the first Mobile Justice Tour, the governments of two more cities, Petersburg and Virginia Beach, have passed policies to remove the question about an individual’s criminal history from the initial employment application. The MJT will advocate for other Virginia governments and private businesses to “Ban the Box” and reduce barriers that prevent our community members from finding work.
 
·      Mass Incarceration & Successful Re-Entry: Even as crime has decreased in Virginia, the state’s drug violation policies, as well as its approaches to sentencing and parole, have led to a mass incarceration crisis of crowded jails and prisons. The MJT will advocate for solutions including a reduced focus on drug offenses, increasing the threshold for Virginia’s grand larceny felony (to account for inflation) and reinstating parole. Policy experts will also propose prisoner re-entry legislation for the 2014 General Assembly session, including prisoner educational, therapeutic and vocational rehabilitation.
 
“With a new governor coming into office next month, and the start of a new legislative session, this round of the Mobile Justice Tour is also an opportunity to illuminate specific policies that demand action from our elected officials,” said Richard Walker, founder and CEO of Bridging the Gap in Virginia and co-moderator of the tour. “With the 8th highest jail incarceration rate in the nation, and a felony disenfranchisement law that continues to strip the right to vote from more than 370,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences, Virginia’s justice system needs an overhaul. It is our hope that Governor-elect McAuliffe will show leadership on these issues to end mass incarceration and help reintegrate individuals back into our communities.”
 
Mobile Justice Tour stops include:
 
·      December 14: Danville
Danville Library, 511 Patton Street, 9:30 am – 1 pm
 
·      December 17: Harrisonburg
Main Street Library, 174 Main Street, 6 – 8 pm
 
·      December 18: Hampton
Main Library, 4207 Victory Blvd., 6 – 9 pm
 
·      December 19: Norfolk
Garden of Hope Community Development Corp., 1317 East Brambleton Ave., 5 – 8 pm
 
·      January 4: Richmond
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, 1720 Mechanicsville Turnpike, 9 am – 3 pm
 
·      January 9: Reston
Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian Church, 11400 Northshore Drive, 6:30 pm
 
·      January 11: Lynchburg
Lynchburg Public Library, 2315 Memorial Ave., 12:30 – 3 pm
 
·      January 16: Ferrum
Ferrum College, Franklin Hall/Blue Ridge Meeting Room, 6 – 9 pm
 
·      January 18: Fredericksburg
Central Rappahannock Library, 1201 Caroline Street, 10 am – 3 pm
 
·      January 28: Petersburg
William R. McKinney Library, 137 Sycamore Street, 4 – 7 pm
 
For more information and latest news, visit www.restorationcampaign.org and follow @va_mjt on Twitter.

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