RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Bills advancing in Virginia’s General Assembly would allow some inmates to serve shorter sentences to incentive good behavior behind bars.
Before one proposal cleared the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) said she was disappointed that it had to be “watered down” to win the approval of her colleagues.
Family members of inmates who showed up to protest shared that sentiment.
Chesterfield resident Angela Adinolfi said her husband, Quinton, could be denied an earlier release date due to his robbery conviction. It’s among the crimes sweepingly classified as ‘violent’ in Virginia that lawmakers decided to exclude from Boysko’s bill expanding earned sentence credits.
“For my husband, a second chance looks like coming home before his son turns 18 and proving that he’s a better person and providing for his family,” Adinolfi said. “We feel like we aren’t being heard.”
Inmates in Virginia can already shave a maximum of 15 percent off of their sentence for engaging in all assigned rehabilitation programs and having no more than one minor disciplinary infraction. That equates to 4.5 days reduced for every 30 days of good behavior.
The newest version of Boysko’s bill maintains the four-step conduct classification system but more than triples the maximum rate, capping sentence reduction at 15 days for every 30 days.
While some view the proposal as a significant improvement, Boysko said the new cap is half of what she envisioned. She also wanted expanded credits to be available to everyone, calling it the best way to encourage rehabilitation, reduce recidivism and cut down on incarceration costs.
Boysko said 34 states have more extensive incentives available to inmates than Virginia. A recent Crime Commission study also found that the majority of states limit who can access the credits.
Boysko said she agreed to exclude those convicted of murder, other violent offenses and sex crimes against children to get the bill passed. She said it was necessary to appease victims and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“We all decided to move it forward even though it’s not perfect because it’s a start,” Boysko said. “I think we can do better.”
Even with the exclusions, Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) said he doesn’t support the bill. After reviewing the new version, he said those convicted of gang-related offenses, terrorism-related offenses, felony DUIs and involuntary manslaughter would still be eligible for expanded earned sentence credits.
Republicans generally argue that, after parole was abolished in Virginia, juries moved away from inflated sentences and began handing down punishments more closely aligned with the crime. They believe shortening sentences even further would be unjust and deceptive.
Sen. Frank Ruff (R-Mecklenburg) is one of four Republicans who voted against the bill in committee on Wednesday. “There is nothing wrong with honesty. If the public knows what the penalty is they are more likely to say hmmm maybe I shouldn’t do that,” he said.
Ruff said he’s more supportive of another section of the bill that would make some terminally ill and elderly inmates eligible for consideration by the Parole Board for conditional release. The Senate Finance Committee removed language that would’ve applied to permanently disabled prisoners.
If this draft of the bill becomes law, it wouldn’t take effect until July 2022 but it would apply retroactively to inmates sentenced before that date.
The House version of this bill could pass by the end of this week.