Lawmakers could expand parole eligibility in Virginia

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Democratic lawmakers are proposing the chance for parole for some Virginia inmates but not for everyone.

Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995. For five years after that jurors were not told that the people they were sending to prison had no chance of parole.

Hundreds of prisoners say they’re paying the price but it could change during this year’s General Assembly session. Rena Wilson’s husband Greg has been in prison for more than two decades after being convicted of second-degree murder and malicious wounding.

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“He actually was defending himself,” Wilson said Friday. “They gave him 47 years with no opportunity for parole or anything like that. The jury wasn’t instructed either that there was no parole.”

From 1995 to 2000, jurors in Virginia were never told about parole not being an option until the Virginia Supreme Court ruled they have to be informed.

“It’s very frustrating especially considering the things that happened with his case, and in my opinion, he shouldn’t be in there to begin with,” Wilson told 8News.

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It’s estimated that more than 300 prisoners fell into the five year gap. With the new Democratic majority, some legislators and advocates say now is the time to give prisoners like Greg Wilson a chance for parole.

“Earning is the key. This isn’t a handout. To earn at the highest level, one must work, educate themselves and remain infraction free for five consecutive years,” said Gin Carter, who is with the Humanization Project. “When somebody can get an infraction for wearing the wrong colored pin, this is quite a feat.”

Other criminal justice reform bills could bring parole back to the whole state.

Some critics, including lawmakers, argue there is no evidence juries would have sentenced any differently if they had been told there was no parole in Virginia at the time.

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