SB 1135 States the Obvious

Fridays are typically short days in the Assembly so everyone can get an early jump on the weekend.  Today was no exception.

However, I did appear in front of the Social Services & Rehab Committee at 8:30 a.m. to present SB 1135.  This simple bill has generated a lot of comments. It shouldn’t.  Because it merely states the obvious.

At issue is the Virginia Parole Board which reviews the parole eligibility of the nearly 10,000 Virginia inmates who were sentenced prior to 1995, when the “no parole” laws went into effect. 

Prior to that time, inmates would serve 30-50% of their assessed time and then be release.  In 1995, the Assembly and Governor George Allen changed the law to mandate “truth in sentencing,” whereby 90% of the time must be served.  Incidentally, I support the current law which is made the system more honest. 

However, there are thousands still incarcerated under the old system.  Their longer sentences were predicated on them having a shot at parole (and likely receiving it) during the pendency of the sentence. 

But parole in Virginia isn’t working that way.  Currently, the Board grants parole to less than 5% of eligible pre-1995 inmates, all of whom have served a minimum of fifteen years.  It’s one of the lowest grant rates in the U.S. 

This may be the correct ratio — I have no intention of second-guessing the Board on individual cases.  Nor do I want to establish a quota.  But we can change the nature of the process.  Right now, it is largely summary with few actual meetings by the Board and no explanation of their actions.  This frustrates everyone who has a stake in the process.

My SB 1135 requires the Board to review the case file of each eligible inmate on the merits with attention to post-sentencing factors — not just the crime itself.  It also requires them to put their denials in writing with an explanation, so that the parties involved know why parole was denied (and what they can do in the future to have a better shot). 

That makes sense.  It also makes for better decisions both for the inmates, for the safety of the public, and for the state taxpayer who is paying $50,000 a year for each additional year of incarceration. 

The bill passed Committee on a near-unanimous vote.  Thanks to Virginia CURE and others that came down to testify. 

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