Parole was abolished in the Commonwealth of Virginia – January 1, 1995. Twenty-three years after the abolishment of parole in this state there are still some 3,000 offenders eligible. It’s inconceivable to me why more than two decades later Virginia continues to have this many offenders eligible for parole. What is the purpose of a parole board that refuses to grant parole?
The legislature has equally expressed outrage by recent statistics that illustrate Virginia’s the least granting state for parole in the country. Why? The pervasive nature of always denying parole to those eligible raises genuine concerns. The trepidation by the Virginia Parole Board to grant parole and their repetitive reasons for refusal appear politically driven.
There appears to be a conflict between state law and parole board rules concerning what factors the Virginia Parole Board may take into account during the review process. State law limits the parole review to prisoner related factors, what a person has done during their confinement to rehabilitate themselves. Conversely, the parole board promulgates its own rules that provides for continued infliction of punishment for one’s crime and past criminal record, in addition to the statutory factors.
The divergence between state law and the rules established by the parole board results in creating a liberty interest conflict that inflicts prejudice which can’t be reconciled. Rather than the state statute dictating the direction the parole board should ensue, the parole board has taken it upon themselves, with the legislature’s consent to have their self-imposed rules supersede state law. For inexplicable reasons no one has seen fit to challenge the inequity of such a convoluted contradiction.
Instead of delegating the onus of the Virginia Parole Board to follow state law, the part-time legislature in its infinite wisdom permitted the parole board unimpeded autonomy to govern themselves with little, if any, oversight. The impact has yielded alarming consequences for any offender who still falls under the old law of Virginia. Since the early 90s there has been a precipitous 44% decline in parole grants. The figure for geriatric offenders is the most atrocious, an abysmal grant rate of just 1%.
The legislature took aim in 2013-2014 to address this injustice and implemented new legislation, sponsored by Del. Mark D. Sickles, requiring the Virginia Parole Board provide specific reasoning for their refusal to grant parole. The new law purported to allow an offender the opportunity to address substantial, tangible issues raised by the board, rectifying any concerns. In doing so, any redress would be commensurate to alleviating the board’s apprehension and stoke dialogue for reconsideration of parole. And bring an end to the rubber stamp denial policy of old for reasons the offender has no capability of changing.
Sadly, years after passing such vital legislation, the Virginia Parole Board continues to provide dubious reasons for denying an offender parole, for which the offender has no bona fide way of making right. The conspicuous actions by the parole board to disregard newly enacted state law raises legitimate concerns about the board’s true intentions. The Office of the Governor cannot continue to sit idly by and ignore the parole board’s negligence when it’s his office who ultimately assumes responsibility for their malice, since it’s Governor Northam’s office who appoints each member.
To be fair, all of the current members on Virginia’s Parole Board were appointed by Gov. Northam’s predecessor, McAuliffe and the governor before him. It should also be stressed that since Ms. Adrienne Bennet replaced Ms. Karen Brown as the Chairperson for the parole board, a significant improvement has been witnessed by parole grants being increased by upwards of 20%. While the total number of parole grants remain meager, change is beginning to move toward progress, but more momentum is demanded.
A parole commission was tasked to look at the pros and cons of bringing parole back to Virginia. At the conclusion, the panel of experts made several recommendations. Approaching three years after the commission was disbanded, none of the recommendations have been implemented. Why not?
The elected and appointed officials of the Commonwealth of Virginia have an obligation to its citizens, free or incarcerated, to perform the obligatory tasks that come with their respective positions. There’s no differentiation whether you’re elected or appointed. It should be your solemn duty to perform to the best of your abilities, all that is expected from someone in your position. If the Virginia legislature insists on putting their party priorities above yours, it’s time to remove them from office. Please demand from your Representatives that parole be brought back and applied retroactively.
John E. Hamilton, #1442949
Virginia Dept. of Corrections
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Rd / P.O. Box 488
Burkeville VA 23922