Did WVA Err By Giving Violent Offenders Annual Parole Reviews?


West Virginia, in an effort to reduce prison crowding, passed a bill intended to accelerate parole hearings for nonviolent offenders. Apparently inadvertently, says the Charleston Daily Mail, legislators deleted a provision that said the parole board could reconsider people sentenced to life in prison with mercy only once every three years. The state Division of Corrections interpreted the legislation to mean that any prisoner eligible for parole, including violent offenders, get annual reviews.

Hazel Powell objected and has forced a re-thinking. Her son was killed in 1992, and she wrote to state leaders, “It is hell thinking that [the killer] could be paroled. It is hell going through it. It’s hell because you fear for your life.” Saying there are 376 life-with-parole offenders in the state’s prisons, the newspaper says that, “If courts tell the public that a sentence means one thing, and the state then shortens that sentence because it is inconvenient to keep the prisoner, the public was misled.” It concludes: “Prison overcrowding is a serious budgetary problem, but the state should not solve it by attempting to dilute justice.”

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