“Recently, I attended the Leading for Justice West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Summit in Charleston, from Jan. 9 to Jan. 11. The West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Coalition is a joint venture between many groups working to change the laws in West Virgina that adversely effect the citizens of our state. This conference, led by those with lived experience, was a unique space to learn about how to reimagine the criminal justice system in West Virginia.

For two days, we learned of current policy initiatives driven by criminal justice reform organizations and also heard personal stories from many justice-impacted individuals. The conference concluded with a breakfast on Jan. 11 with brilliant speakers from the week, including West Virginia Delegate Danielle Walker (D-Monongalia). Attendees walked from the breakfast to the capitol building for the first day of sessions, and were encouraged to lobby for the policies brought forth earlier in the week.

As a person in longterm recovery, but having never been what I considered justice impacted, I learned a lot during these few days. With my political and issue-based community organizing background, one of the policies that stood out to me was around fighting for representation for folks who are on monitoring (parole) from a previous convicted felony. As it stands now, if you are on monitoring for a felony, you are not allowed to vote or register to vote. However, if you are off parole, and were previously convicted of a felony, you can register and vote. One of the frustrating parts about not being able to vote while on parole, is that many of these folks are encouraged to begin employment as a part of their reentry and some are then required to have taxes taken out of their paychecks, pay taxes etc, but yet are still unable to have their voices heard at the polls. This is taxation without representation.

One solution to this problem, would be to allow folks that are currently on parole for a previously convicted felony, to have the right to register to vote and exercise that right.”