Greg Gourley, director of New Americans of Washington raises concerns regarding felons permanently losing their right to vote (“Too many felons have lost right to vote,” Nov. 25.) In addressing part of his column to Gov. Gary Locke, he seems to suggest that felons in Washington state are never again allowed to vote. Mr. Gourley, then, should be pleased to hear that Washington state does provide for the discharge and restoration of the rights to vote and hold public office, provided the offender has completed all sentence requirements, including matters such as full restitution to the victim and payment for the cost of their supervision. The right to bear firearms is not restored. As a community corrections officer for the Washington state Department of Corrections, I process hundreds of such discharges every year for the many offenders who don’t make the news, because they are successful in turning their lives around.
The state Legislature and the governor, in their wisdom, have enacted just the kind of legislation that Mr. Gourley and his organization should fight for in other states. It would seem he should join with the governor and Legislature as partners in the goal of returning successful offenders to the community.
Washington state even provides for the “vacation of record,” which is our equivalent of a pardon discussed by Mr. Gourley. As the House Bill Report 1392 noted during the last session, “Vacation of record has the effect of removing all ‘penalties and disabilities’ that resulted from the offense.” Further details can be found in House Bill Report 1392 which is available through the Legislature section of the state’s Web site, www.access.wa.gov.
Citizens will be pleased to know that the “vacation of record” is severely limited, taking into consideration the nature of the original offense. Offenders requesting a vacation of record must demonstrate law abiding behavior for five to 10 years, depending on the level of their original offense. Furthermore, offenders with violent crimes against people do not qualify for vacation of record, not ever. On balance, it appears that Washington state’s approach, compared to so many other states, is quite enlightened, considering the need to reintegrate offenders into a meaningful role in society, along with recognizing those other offenders whose crime’s seriousness mitigates against a full pardon, ever.
Editor’s note: The writer is a member of The Herald’s advisory council.
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