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A Second Chance For Nonviolent Felons

A bill to be introduced at the Legislature would create a way for nonviolent felons to ask the court to give them a clean record after five years without getting in trouble. Photo by the WV state legislature.
A bill to be introduced at the Legislature would create a way for nonviolent felons to ask the court to give them a clean record after five years without getting in trouble. Photo by the WV state legislature.
September 14, 2015

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - No matter how they live after being convicted, West Virginia felons have a hard time getting a job. But legislation could change that for some nonviolent former offenders.

Kanawha County Delegate Mike Pushkin will sponsor his Second Chance for Employment Act again in the next session. He says as it stands now, felons carry a black mark for the rest of their lives - making it very, very hard to get work. He says his legislation would create a way for nonviolent felons to ask the court to give them a clean record after five years of living right.

"They've done everything right since they've made that mistake," says Pushkin. "They've stayed clean, they've stayed on the right path and it will help bring people back into society, to get off public assistance and get more gainful employment to provide for their families."

Amber Miller, 31, of St. Albans says she had a substance-abuse problem more than a decade ago when she was convicted of stealing $30 from her grandmother's house. She says she has a good job now, but for years her criminal record made it all but impossible to get an employer to look at her application for most kinds of decent employment.

"If you're honest, then you have to check the box that says you're a convicted felon and chances are that application sees the trash can before you hit the door," says Miller.

In the past, the state Legislature has followed a tough-on-crime philosophy. Pushkin says he hears criticism of his bill as soft on lawbreakers. But he says letting felons petition a judge five years after finishing their sentences doesn't make the state's justice system lax.

"This bill is not easy on criminals," Pushkin. "It's not letting people out of jail, they've already done their sentence. This provides an extra incentive for them to stay on the right path."

The Our Children, Our Future coalition will hold its annual policy symposium at the state Capitol Monday and Tuesday. The group is encouraging the public to come and vote on which legislative policies to lobby for.

The Second Chance for Employment Act is one proposal the group will consider.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV