On Friday, Sept. 29, approximately 25 University of Richmond students attended a meet and greet session, hosted by UR Downtown, with current state officials about criminal justice in the state of Virginia. 

Kelly Thomasson, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and Brian J. Moran, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, spoke with attendees about various criminal justice issues within the state. The event was held in the Patrick Henry Building near the Virginia State Capitol.

Thomasson spoke at length about Governor Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to reform Virginia’s restoration of rights policy. As it currently stands, felons can only request for restoration of civil rights if they are no longer in prison or under supervision of probation or parole. 

Most of the Governor’s attempts at streamlining the process have been blocked by the House of Delegates and the Supreme Court, but the Governor’s office has made incremental improvements that have affected the lives of approximately 160,000 people.

“We’ve had citizens whose rights we have restored call us crying, saying that they feel like a whole person again,” Thomasson said. “That’s why we do what we do.”

After Thomasson explained Virginia’s restoration of rights policy, Moran explained what other efforts the Governor’s office has made to improve criminal justice in the state.

Moran brought up three “legacy items” that he hoped would affect Virginia policy for years to come. These three items were improvements on the state recidivism rate, juvenile delinquency system and license suspension laws.  Recidivism refers to the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend.

“Our recidivism rate is currently at 24.3%, the lowest rate in the nation,” Moran said. “We’ve cut juvenile inmates down two-thirds from 600 to 200. Your first non-driving offense does not suspend your license any longer.”

Both secretaries also took questions from students on the history behind current criminal laws such as restoration of rights. They explained how institutional racism was the basis of many of these current issues and that modern politics has prevented many of these issues from being resolved properly.

“Elections have consequences,” Moran said.

 Joanna Heijl, WC‘20, a UR Downtown student coordinator, was one of the students to attend the event.

“I was interested in attending this event because I am planning on working for the Secretary of the Commonwealth this semester,” Heijl said. “I enjoyed learning more information about public safety and the justice system here in Virginia.”

UR Downtown hosts regular government excursions, including visits to the Richmond School Board and Richmond City Council.

You can learn more about these events and other programs that UR Downtown offers on their website.

Contact news writer Julia Raimondi at julia.raimondi@richmond.edu.