CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Non-violent felons can petition the court to have their sentences reduced to misdemeanors, according to a new law in West Virginia.
The West Virginia Second Chance for Employment Act took effect Friday.
Governor Jim Justice signed the bill in April after it passed the Legislature during this year’s session.
Senator Glen Jeffries (D-Putnam, 08) introduced the bill after meeting with several business owners who wanted to hire people, but were not able to due to their previous felony convictions.
“We have a significant amount of people in West Virginia that are in that scenario and we believe that this is going to help them to be able to find employment,” Jeffries told MetroNews.
According to the new law, a person has to be clean for at least 10 years before filing a petition. The petition has to be served to State Police, the county prosecutor, city police or any executive head of a municipal police department and the circuit court of the conviction.
A petition can be obtained on the state Supreme Court’s website or at the county circuit courts. There’s a $300 for the petition.
The American Friends Service Committee in West Virginia is a big supporter of the legislation. Rick Wilson, the committee’s program director, said the new law creates opportunities for people to become productive citizens again.
“People are going to get out sooner or later, so how can we make it easier for them to reenter and become employed to stabilize their lives? We thought this was a good first step in that direction,” Wilson said.
A lot of people, Wilson said, have drug convictions on their record — making it difficult to find a job.
“If you have that and you can’t get a job, they can’t enter certain professions, it limits your ability to work then what do you think is going to happen,” he said.
Wilson classified the number of people with non-violent felony convictions in West Virginia as “pretty high” including thousands of people.
Once a person petitions to court, a judge will decide where to go from there.