Hollaback and Restore Project, restoring felons' rights

WAYNESBORO, Va. (AP) - An effort is underway in the Waynesboro area to find nonviolent felons who are eligible to have their voting and civil rights restored.

Mercedes Harris opened the Hollaback and Restore Project office Monday in downtown Waynesboro. Harris' rights were restored last fall after he served more than a decade in prison for cocaine distribution, The News-Virginian{ } reported Tuesday.

Community members will help Harris identify eligible nonviolent felons in Waynesboro and surrounding areas.

"We want to be a database," Harris said. "We won't be leaving any rock unturned."

He said it "takes a whole village and community to find people looking to get their rights restored."

Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that nonviolent felons who complete their sentences and maintain a clean record will regain their civil rights on an individual basis without having to apply. Cases will now be automatically considered without an application.

McDonnell also is eliminating a two-year waiting period for nonviolent felons to have their civil rights restored.

In Virginia, only the governor can restore felons' rights.

Violent felons will still have to wait five years and apply to regain their rights to vote, hold public office, and serve on a jury and as a notary public.

There are 100,000 nonviolent felons in Virginia who are eligible to have their rights restored, Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly said.

Kelly said there are many gaps because Virginia didn't begin tracking felons until 1995.

The Washington, D.C-based Advancement Project helped Harris to get his rights restored. Richael Faithful, an attorney with the project, said the restoration of rights gives felons a feeling of accomplishment and dignity.

"It encourages people to continue on the right path," she said.

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