Cover story

Restoring rights to reformed felons

“People who know me don’t say, ‘That’s Sandy the felon, the drug addict.’ That’s not who I am today,” she says.

Now Finelli, who works as Ridge House’s fiscal administrator and volunteers in the prison, considers herself a productive citizen. As such, she’d like the rights of other citizens.

“It really makes me upset that I don’t get to vote,” she says. “I pay taxes.”

If Nevada really wants felons to return to the community successfully, Finelli and others argue, then the state needs to provide the incentive of restored rights. Nevada law makes it difficult for individuals who’ve committed felonies to regain the right to vote or to possess a firearm for hunting. The state also bars felons from becoming licensed in many professions, from hairdressing to working as an athletic trainer.

A bill in the Nevada Assembly seeks to change these laws, restoring rights to those who’ve successfully done their time and changed their lives.

AB 337, approved by the Assembly Judiciary on April 6, would restore basic rights to people who’ve been honorably released from prison and who’ve completed parole requirements. Besides voting, it would also allow individuals like Finelli, who’ve proven themselves, to receive specific occupational licenses—as long as their crimes didn’t involve the area to which the license applies. (A person convicted of a barber-related felony wouldn’t, for example, be able to receive a barber’s license.)

The bill would go a long way to helping people walk the straight and narrow, say proponents like Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

"Once a felon has paid the debt, there should be no demeaning roadblocks put up to keep him from getting re-enfranchised," Fulkerson says. "There are people who have definitely made mistakes in the past but have paid their debt. Our Western civilization is all about redemption, and we need to provide that."