Testimonies of drug addiction, recovery, jail sentences and second chances were hand delivered to House Speaker Tim Armstead's office today by constituents advocating for so called "second chance" legislation.
Jamie Moffatt was convicted of operating a meth lab when she was 21 years old and spoke on behalf of her experience and convicted felons throughout West Virginia.
Moffatt said, "I've had my past thrown in my face time and time again. I've checked that "yes" box, that have you ever committed a felony, hundreds of times because I've had to apply for job after job after job."
Experiences like Moffatt's inspired the "Ban the Box" legislation -or House Bill 2380- that would prohibit employers from asking applicants for criminal history before the applicant has signed a waiver, been considered for a specific position and has received an interview
House Bill 2380 is one of several bills being pushed by lobbying groups like the American Friend’s Service Committee to help convicted felonies rehabilitate back into their communities. The committee held a press conference at the capitol today to shed light on the stories of people like Moffat.
Darrell Padgett was incarcerated for 20 years and while in prison taught himself persuasive writing. He petitioned the judge on his case to release him so he could further his education with a Bachelor’s Degree. He now has a Master’s in Criminal Science and travels all over the nation advocating for second chance legislation and sharing his story.
"Often society is reluctant to open their arms to let us back in. It is difficult even after a Master's Degree, even outside of the Master's Degree, the knowledge that I have with criminal law to be able to persuade a senior United States District Court Judge to release me and reduce my sentence on three occasions, I can’t get a job," said Padgett.
On average, it costs the state of West Virginia $26,000 per year to house just one inmate in a state prison roughly 77 dollars per day according to West Virginia Division of Corrections. Padgett said passing legislation to help offenders reintegrate into society will help reduce those costs and prevent repeat offenders.
"I'm a returning citizen after having spent 20 years in federal prison. I was locked down in a cell sentenced to 37 years for a gram of crack cocaine," said Padgett. "And in that dark, cold cell, I decided to make changes in my behavior; I realized that if I didn’t make changes in my behavior I possibly would die in that cell."
Senate Bill 76 is another second chance bill, presented to lawmakers. Known as the "Second Chance for Employment Act", it would allow certainly felonies to be expunged from people’s records. It passed the Senate unanimously last year, but wasn’t considered in the House. Del. Mike Pushkin said he wants to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
"We have a whole lot of people who have blemishes on their record and we also have a lot of people who are getting better and there are a lot of people in this room that are getting better," Pushkin said. "People who do what their supposed to do, they deserve a second chance, not just because they deserve it, but because the state deserves it."
Cross over day, or the final day to approve bills in their originating chambers, is quickly approaching. Advocates said that’s why they have been pushing so hard to get second chance bills out of committee and on to the chamber floor.