RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) –Two Democrats joined Republicans on a state Senate panel to defeat a bill to restore parole in Virginia.
Virginia abolished discretionary parole in 1995 and passed a law requiring those convicted of felonies to serve at least 85% of their sentences to be considered for early release.
Laws to expand parole eligibility have passed in recent years, but efforts to reinstate parole have stalled in the Virginia General Assembly. The latest push from state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) was voted down Monday.
Sen. Morrissey’s bill aimed to allow those convicted of a felony on or after Jan. 1, 1995, when the abolition of parole went into effect, to become eligible.
The measure “doesn’t allow a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Morrissey said Monday, adding that people would still need to go before the Virginia Parole Board and his proposal would help those stuck “serving excessive sentences.”
Parole Board Chairman Chadwick Dotson spoke briefly at Monday’s hearing, saying that the Youngkin administration “strongly opposes” the bill.
The Democrat-led Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-7 to kill the measure, with state Sens. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) siding with all six Republicans on the panel.
In Virginia, incarcerated people serving sentences for crimes before 1995 or those qualified for geriatric release are eligible for parole.
Under new law changes, people who committed their crimes as juveniles and have served at least 20 years of their sentences and those sentenced by juries not informed that Virginia abolished parole are also eligible.
The issue of parole has garnered more attention in the commonwealth after the previous board faced backlash over its handling of certain cases, including allegations that members violated state law and policies by not notifying victims’ families and prosecutors about early releases.
State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) responded “Adrianne Bennett,” the former parole board chair who Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) said could have faced criminal charges, when it was pointed out that the board would still have discretion on granting parole if Morrissey’s bill passed.
Representatives from the Legal Aid Justice Center and Rise For Youth spoke in support of the legislation.
Clarissa T. Berry, Madison County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney, spoke Monday on behalf of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys — a group representing the 120 elected prosecutors across the commonwealth — in opposition to the bill.
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