MCLEAN, VA – Terry McAuliffe today released his bold Plan of Action for a Fairer Commonwealth to reform Virginia’s criminal justice system, with a focus on equity, rehabilitation, and second chances. The plan builds on the historic progress Terry made as Virginia’s 72nd governor, when he restored voting rights to over 173,000 Virginians — more than any governor in American history. As Virginia’s next governor, Terry will continue to work to reform a system that has disproportionately targeted and impacted Black and Brown Virginians for centuries. He will work to legalize marijuana, reform outdated expungement laws, expand access to parole, create an Office for Returning Citizens, and codify the restoration of voting rights into Virginia’s constitution.
The plan comes just two weeks after Terry called on the Virginia General Assembly to pass a resolution for a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to Virginians convicted of felonies. Enshrining this monumental policy in Virginia’s Constitution requires the General Assembly to pass resolutions for the amendment during two separate legislative sessions, followed by a ballot referendum approved by voters. As governor, Terry will work tirelessly to ensure the passage of a second resolution and its approval by voters during the first year of his administration.
Eric Branch, whose voting rights Terry restored as governor, shares his story in a new video, “The Right Thing To Do.” In the video, Eric Branch says: “We need people to be able to be restored and to have an opportunity to prove that they want a second chance just like myself…To be able to vote now means that I’m voting on things in the future: better schools, better education for the Commonwealth of Virginia.” In 2016, Eric joined Terry when he announced he would individually restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of Virginians. In achieving this historic victory for the Commonwealth, Terry fought and prevailed over relentless opposition from Republicans, who sued him twice, including for contempt of court. As a result of Terry’s efforts, more than 200,000 Virginians have now had their voting rights restored.
With equity at the forefront, Terry’s Plan of Action for a Fairer Commonwealth builds on his work as governor by prioritizing rehabilitation and second chances, fighting to achieve justice in sentencing, working to rebuild trust between communities and law enforcement, continuing to combat the opioid addiction epidemic, and solidifying the transformation of the juvenile justice system. Terry believes it is essential to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth and ensure that Black and Brown Virginians have meaningful ownership opportunities in the new industry. He will also create a Community Reinvestment Fund to direct state revenues into communities that have been impacted by disproportionate marijuana enforcement, through critical services, treatment for substance use disorders, and funding for alternatives to incarceration.
“For generations, Black and Brown Virginians have been disproportionately targeted by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws. The failed War on Drugs has instead been a successful war on communities of color, and Terry McAuliffe knows we have an opportunity right now to change this if we go big and act boldly,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, Co-Chair of Terry for Virginia. “As Virginia’s 72nd governor, Terry took on this part of a racist system and successfully restored voting rights to more Virginians than any governor in American history. I know that with Terry as our next governor, we will continue to make progress and build a more equitable system that works for all. Our issues are his issues and he will take the big, bold action necessary for change”
As Virginia’s next governor, Terry will make sure Virginia joins dozens of other states in allowing expungements for certain misdemeanor and felony offenses. He will also expand access to parole and create an Office for Returning Citizens so that the thousands of men and women returning home from correctional facilities each year have access to the support they need to succeed. The Office will connect returning citizens with critical resources throughout their transition by providing a single point of contact to help them identify housing and employment opportunities.
“Our criminal justice system promises the equitable and fair administration of justice, whether people can afford it or not. Public defenders and court appointed attorneys play a critical role in making sure every Virginian is provided due process under the law. Unfortunately, this is rarely what the citizens of Virginia receive. Public defenders are under-paid, under-resourced, under-valued and overworked,” said Deirdre M. Enright, Director of The Innocence Project at UVA School of Law. “Terry’s criminal justice reform plan calls for expanding public defender offices throughout our Commonwealth. This is the right approach and one of the many ways we can – and must – ensure that no one is denied access to justice simply because they can’t afford it.”
“Standing up against relentless Republican opposition and restoring voting rights to 173,000 Virginians is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life, but it was just one important step on the long journey to building a truly fair criminal justice system. For generations, Black and Brown Virginians have been unjustly targeted by our criminal justice system for the color of their skin or the neighborhood they live in. Our work is not done,” said Terry McAuliffe. “Now is the time to finally deliver Virginians an equitable, just system that is firmly rooted in redemption and second chances. Together, we will create a stronger, more equitable Commonwealth that works for its citizens, not against them.”
As Virginia’s 72nd Governor, Terry championed progressive criminal justice reforms, despite facing repeated opposition from a Republican legislature. In addition to restoring 173,000 Virginians’ voting rights, he issued 227 pardons, more than any governor before him. Terry also transformed Virginia’s juvenile justice system and reduced the population of incarcerated youths by nearly two-thirds, provided free transportation for families to support visitation, and brought high-speed internet to Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center (Bon Air JCC), resulting in the state’s first-ever college credit programs for committed youth. Terry also invested millions of dollars in re-entry programs, alternatives to incarceration, and mental health and substance use disorder services. In 2016, Virginia achieved the lowest recidivism rate in the nation for the first time at 23.4%.
In 2020, Governor Northam and Virginia’s Democratic legislative majority took action to begin to rebuild trust between communities and law enforcement by improving training, increasing accountability, and shifting responsibilities away from law-enforcement agencies and back into communities where they belong. As governor, Terry will work to build on this progress by drastically increasing diversity in law enforcement, refocusing on community policing, shifting responsibilities back into community services, and expanding body-worn camera programs.
Since launching his campaign, Terry has released big, bold plans to strengthen Virginia’s education system and dramatically increase teacher pay, help secure Virginia’s economic recovery from COVID-19, ensure Virginians have access to regular nutritious meals, address the broken, predatory system of prescription drug pricing, and boldly confront the gun violence epidemic in the Commonwealth. As governor, Terry will take bold and decisive action to create jobs, protect workers, invest in mental health services, and rebuild Virginia’s thriving network of small businesses, particularly Black and Brown-owned businesses.