Now that the Democrats have gained control of the Virginia House and Senate, will Virginia reinstate parole and why should they?
In my opinion, parole should be reinstated and here’s why.
In1995, Virginia adopted a “tough on crime” policy as a way to deter crime in the Commonwealth. Under the new laws, parole was done away with, and felons would have to serve at least 85% of their sentences. Additionally, the penalty ranges for some crimes were raised. People convicted prior to January 1, 1995 are considered “Old law” inmates (pre 1995) and still go up for parole after serving a small portion of their sentence.
As someone convicted under what is referred to as “new law”, I do believe that it is time for parole to be reinstated in Virginia. This would give “new law” inmates the same opportunity as “old law” inmates to demonstrate that they are reformed and ready to return to society, while still allowing the parole board to ultimately decide who truly is a good candidate for early release.
My reasoning is based on facts. First the crime rate in Virginia has NOT drastically changed since parole was abolished. It still remains in line with the national average and similar to the crime rate in states with parole.
There may be many factors why a person commits a crime, but typically most people do not think much about what the punishment will be for committing the crime or whether parole does or does not exist, prior to committing it. The fact is no matter how tough the penalty is for a particular crime, unfortunately crime will still exist. Therefore, no matter how stiff the penalty, it is not usually a determining factor in someone’s decision whether to commit a crime or not.
Second, the cost of continuing to sentence people to prison for long periods of time with no chance for parole has overcrowded prisons and is a huge burden on the taxpayers of Virginia. This means more prisons will need to be built and current older prisons will need to be updated. Currently at least 3 major prisons in Virginia do NOT have air conditioning, yet house about 1400 inmates each. Additionally, with the prison population getting older, the medical expenses for treatment continues to climb. Currently at $230 million per year, medical costs average over $7500 per year for every single inmate. What will it be in another 10 or 20 years? By reinstating the parole system, the prison population can be reduced to prevent the future expenses of building more prisons, reduce overall costs and create the possibility of closing some of the older facilities.
Third, by reinstating parole you create an incentive for inmates to maintain good behavior and to participate in both rehabilitation and vocational programs in prison, therefore making them better prepared to reenter society. Under the current 85% system with no parole, there really is no incentive for inmates to “do right”. As an example, three men come to prison each with a 40 year sentence. The first guy doesn’t do anything to improve his character or his job skills. He sleeps all day, sits around playing cards and watching TV, but he manages to stay out of any major trouble. The second guy maintains a job in prison, stays out of trouble and takes every program he can in order to improve himself as a person and prepares himself to reenter society in a positive way. The third guy, does drugs, gets in fights, robs other inmates, always gets institutional charges and basically is a screw up. Without parole, the first and second guy will both serve (exactly the same) 34 years (85%) of their sentence. The third guy, having lost all of his good time will serve no more than the maximum of 40 years. So there really is not much intentive for any of them to “do right”, yet each one made a personal choice how to conduct themselves in prison. With the possibility of parole, the parole board could look at each of these guys individually. They could look at the circumstances of their crime as well as their behavior and habits in prison to determine if any of these individuals would be a good candidate to return to society early.
At a cost of about $30k/ yr, each one of these men will cost the Virginia taxpayers around $1 million or more over the course of his sentence. Imagine the saving, if even one of them is released much earlier. The courts could continue sentencing people to lengthy sentences, but allow for the flexibility of early release for those individuals who demonstrate that they would be able to return to society as a law abiding, tax paying, citizen rather than continuing to be a burden on the state. Currently, the only possibility of early release (once all your appeals are over with) is by receiving clemency from the Governor, which typical is a costlier and more time consuming process. Just like with the “old law” inmates, those deemed to still be a high risk of reoffending, a threat to society, or have shown no effort to improve themselves would be denied parole and still serve 85-100% of their sentence.
Fourth, having parole available will allow families to be put back together. Many men (and women) who have spent numerous years in prison have a newfound respect for their families and their freedom. Respect is very important in prison, having respect for the officers as well for other inmates is the key to being successful in prison as well as in society. By returning these men and women to their communities, they can be a strong influence on the younger generations. Truly reducing crime starts with putting families back together and teaching the next generation to respect everyone.
If you believe that Virginia should reinstate parole and make it retroactive for everyone sentenced since 1995, please contact the state reps from your area.
Thanks for everyone who has signed and shared my petition on change.org