Restoration of Rights Clinic

Student volunteers assist ex-offenders in restoring their civil rights

April 22, 2013

This year, as an Alternative Spring Break program, the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service offered law students an opportunity to volunteer with a Restoration of Rights Clinic held March 11-14, 2013, at UR Downtown. In partnership with Williams Mullen and Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), the Carrico Center developed and hosted a Restoration of Rights Pro Bono Clinic to assist ex-offenders in restoring their civil rights. Virginia is only one of four states that permanently strips civil rights from people convicted of felonies, including their right to vote. The only way to restore rights is through executive clemency by the governor.

Nikita Wolf, L'13, Zach Jesse, L'14, Steven Kook, L'14, and Cayman Mooney, L'14, volunteered at the clinic. Nikita Wolf was surprised to learn how difficult it is for people to get their civil rights restored after prison "despite years of self-improvement, discipline, and hard work." Nikita added that "others simply don't know how to go about getting their rights back. The Restoration of Rights Clinic tries to make the process easier for everyone."

Prior to the clinic, Sara Eddleton, Community Engagement Coordinator at OAR, screened clients for eligibility and set appointments. Sara commented, "It was heartwarming to hear the excitement in the voices of the persons who called us to schedule an appointment when they realized they were eligible for the clinic. Callers were extremely thankful for the information, free service, and help." Barbara Slayden, Executive Director of OAR, added, "Since OAR's active clients are not typically eligible to apply to have their rights restored, this was a great way for us to participate in the process of helping ex-offenders apply for restoration of rights. OAR looks forward to participating in this partnership again in the future."

Once clients were determined to be eligible, they met with volunteer attorneys and law students to draft the petition for restoration of rights for submission to the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Zach Jesse said that he couldn't be happier with how he chose to spend his spring break. He said, "Frankly, I wish the experience had lasted longer! What I took most from the experience was the eagerness that the people who came into our makeshift office showed in getting their rights restored. Whether they came in by themselves or with significant others, everyone viewed this opportunity as one which could help on the long road toward a positive societal contribution."

As for Nikita's experience working with the clinic, she said, "I loved seeing exactly how my legal skills can help those in the Richmond community! Too often I think as students we're trapped in the world of the theoretical and don't spend enough time in the practical world—the Restoration of Rights Clinic is an excellent way to put those theoretical skills into practice and help people at the same time."

Steven Gould, an Associate at Williams Mullen, was at the forefront of developing the clinic and said "We could not ask for a better partner than the Carrico Center. Together, we've taken the idea of a pro bono program to assist individuals seeking restoration of their civil rights from an initial concept to a clinic that has produced tangible results. For many ex-offenders, the application process can be intimidating, and it's rewarding to work closely with applicants as they work to rejoin society fully. Having the opportunity to tell a client that his or her rights have been restored is a truly memorable one."

The Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service is located at the School of Law's Clinical Law Center and at University of Richmond Downtown, the University's downtown campus located at 626 East Broad Street.