Randy Rollins has practiced law in Virginia for more than 40 years. He served as Virginia Secretary of Public Safety under Governor Douglas Wilder. In 2007, he founded the nonprofit Drive to Work, which assists low-income and formerly incarcerated individuals to restore their driving privileges. Currently, Randy is encouraging state legislators to reduce the financial burden of fines and costs on getting driver's licenses back, thereby improving job and employment prospects.
Most people who have a driver’s license take it for granted. But the license is such a critical requirement of successful employment for people who are at the lower end of the economic spectrum. They’ve got to get to work and sometimes they’ve got to drive on the job. Everyone knows, if you live in Richmond, you can’t work in Goochland County unless you can drive there. There is often a big mismatch between where the jobs are and where the people live, especially for lower-income individuals.
When I was Secretary of Public Safety, I saw some of the challenges that people face when they are released from jail. I was very much a supporter—and still am—of work as one of the best solutions to recidivism. If you’ve got a job, if you can support yourself, if you’ve developed some sort of stake in society—even if it’s a small one—you’re less likely to go back to the street. Having a driver's license is often critical to getting a job, since nearly 2,000 job positions require a license.
About 5.8 million people have licenses in Virginia. And over 800,000 of those licenses are suspended. Some people with suspended licenses are obeying the law, not driving, and taking the consequences that come from not being able to drive. Others go out and drive anyway. If your ride to work doesn’t show up and you’re late to your job, you’re going to be fired. So, you drive. What’s worse: to drive and get stopped, or to lose your job? You make a choice.
There’s a considerable need and also a considerable lack of legal expertise in the area of driver’s license recovery. If the causes of the problem are different fines and different courts, then you’ve got to deal with multiple sources of the problem. If you’re trying to earn a living and struggling to get food on the table, you’re short on time—and you may get frustrated by the fact that this is very complicated. Drive to Work’s goal is to make it possible through an attorney-client partnership to get folks through that process. We’re not shortcutting the process. We’re not making light of the fact that they have unpaid obligations or responsibilities to society resulting from prior criminal conduct. We’re saying, “Okay, here we are today. You want to try to improve yourself and get back into a job to support your family or go to school. We’re here to help you do that.”
It was a little more than 20 years ago when the country and every state adopted a “war on drugs.” That was when I served as Secretary of Public Safety. We’re living with the consequences of that war—and we haven’t solved the problem. The consequences include a much higher incarceration rate, much more money devoted to prisons and the cost of running them, and lots of people whose lives have been disrupted through going to jail as opposed getting treatment. There’s still a pervasive “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality, but it’s starting to change.
Most people were proud when they received their first driver’s license. If you’ve never had a license, or had it suspended for 20 years, when you get it back there’s a certain self-respect that comes along with that. We are doing the practical: restoring the license so that formerly incarcerated people can get a job. But we’re also doing a little bit more: restoring some dignity lost when they lost that very common rite of passage.
—interviewed December 11, 2015