Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s push to reinstate some forms of parole in Virginia is stirring anger among crime victims and prompting dire warnings from Republicans about the danger of letting criminals go free, the Washington Post reports. Twenty-five years after the state eliminated the practice of releasing prisoners who had served part of their sentence, thousands of inmates could be eligible to get out under bills making their way through the Democratically controlled General Assembly. Prisoner advocates cheer the effort to end a parole ban that the Northam administration says has led to crowded prisons, escalating medical costs for aging inmates and inequities in sentencing that disproportionately affect people of color. Victims groups respond that the possibility of releasing offenders before their sentences expire would force families to relive their traumatic experiences.
“It seems like this legislation cares more about the prisoners than they do the crime victims,” said Teresa McKensie, a victims advocate whose ex-husband is in prison for trying to stab her to death in 2003. “This is devastating to victims’ families.” Most of the proposed changes chip away at the parole ban, a “truth in sentencing” initiative adopted during a wave of tough-on-crime laws. The law mandates that inmates serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, ending early-release programs in which some felons served as little as a fifth of their sentences. About a dozen other states have also abolished parole in some form. Some Virginia proposals under consideration this year would grant eligibility for a parole hearing to inmates who committed their crimes as juveniles and to those who are terminally ill or physically disabled. Others would lower the eligibility age for “geriatric release” to as young as 50. There are also proposals to reinstate parole for all prisoners.