RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia lawmakers should consider expanding the state’s Parole Board and require its hearings to be open to the public, its chairman wrote in a new report ordered by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Not long after being sworn into office, Gov. Youngkin signed an executive order firing the entire Virginia Parole Board that came under fire after state investigations found that members had violated procedure and state law by failing to notify victims’ families and local prosecutors before granting parole to people convicted of murder.
Youngkin’s order also directed the secretary of public safety and homeland security to conduct a thorough review of the board with recommendations for administrative, legislative and policy changes by no later than Sept. 1, 2022.
Virginia Parole Board Chairman Chadwick Dotson put forward a report released by Youngkin’s office Monday that includes recommendations for state lawmakers to consider, including staff increases and potentially conducting “quasi-public parole hearings virtually.”
“If we are serious about transparency, public safety, ensuring victims have a voice, and creating a ‘Best in Class’ parole system, we need to be open to drastic change that will inevitably require legislative buy-in,” Dotson wrote in the 28-page report.
Chairman Dotson, the former top prosecutor for Wise County and the city of Norton and a former circuit court judge in Wise County, recommended a legislative change requiring the board to expand from five members to six and hold parole hearings that are available to the public.
“The Chairman recommends a legislative package to expand the number of full-time Board members to six (including the Chair) with staggered terms,” the report reads. “With an increased number of full-time Board members, the Chairman envisions being able to assign panels of Board members to conduct hearings around the Commonwealth.”
Other recommendations in the report include passing legislation to eliminate dual eligibility for parole, requiring the governor to seek input from victims before granting any conditional or absolute pardons and forcing the Parole Board to get feedback from local prosecutors before considering parole cases from their jurisdictions.
Dotson also believes the board’s website should be upgraded to increase transparency, citing its current “confusing layout” and “dense language.”
High-profile parole cases made headlines, and the state investigator who led the investigations into the board in 2020 was fired after filing a whistleblower lawsuit. That former state employee filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging defamation by senior state officials.
Gov. Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares and other Republicans made the scandal surrounding the parole board a main talking point on the campaign trail, accusing the Northam administration and Democrats of being weak on crime and vowing to replace the board if elected.
“I’m pleased that Chairman Dotson has done a thorough review and has implemented many key changes, especially providing increased information to victims and requiring the input of victims and Commonwealth’s Attorneys before considering parole,” Youngkin said in a statement Monday. “While there is more work to be done, I am proud of Chairman Dotson and the new Board for implementing changes to ensure they are considering victims and their families, increasing transparency, and following the law.”
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