News Article
July 21, 2015

Prisoners Seeking to Reinstate Parole in Virginia

To: Honorable Terence McAuliffe, Governor of Virginia

: Senate of Virginia- Courts of Justice and Rehabilitation and Social Services Committees

: Virginia House of Delegates- Courts of Justice and Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committees


Article V, Section 12 of the Virginia Constitution and Virginia Code Annotated, Sections 53.1-229 through 53.1-231 grants the Governor of Virginia inherent power and authority to grant clemency to prisoners in the form of conditional pardons and sentence commutations.

We, the Undersigned, are filing this petition with your office to seek your leniency and mercy, to appeal to your sense of fairness and justice, and to bring to your attention a longstanding injustice which has persisted in this Commonwealth since parole was abolished effective January 1, 1995. Having exhausted all available post-conviction remedies in both state and federal courts, there are few avenues for long-term Virginia prisoners to regain our freedom after decades of languishing in confinement.

Under Virginia Code Annotated (V.A. Code), Section 19.2-303, a defendant can motion to sentencing court for a reduction or modification of his/her sentence but this motion must be filed before a defendant is transferred to the V.A. Dept. of Corrections. Once a defendant is transferred to the V.A. Dept. of Corrections, the sentencing court loses jurisdiction to entertain such motions. Because most lawyers do not exercise this option on behalf of their client in a timely manner- if at all- V.A. Code 19.2- 303 offers little to no relief for prisoners who have already spent years (decades) in prison.

Under V.A. Codes 19.2-327.2 and 19.2-327.10, a prisoner may petition both the V.A. Supreme and the Court of Appeals of Virginia for a writ of actual innocence based on biological and non-biological evidence. In both instances, however, in order to qualify for relief under these Codes, a prisoner must have entered a plea of not guilty during his/her trial. Consequently, neither of these Codes offers relief to prisoners who have pied guilty and admitted guilt.

V.A. Code provides for the early conditional release of geriatric (elderly) prisoners. This Code states:

"Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony (i) who have reached the age of sixty-five or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of sixty or older and who has served at least ten years of the sentence imposed may petition the Parole Board for conditional release."

As you can see, this Code doesn't take into account the age of the prisoner at the time he/she was sentenced. For instance, prisoners who were only 18-years-old at the time of sentencing will have to serve a minimum of forty-two {42) consecutive years- when he/she has attained the age of sixty- before he/she can petition the Parole Board for conditional geriatric release. Even then, conditional geriatric release is not guaranteed, as most petitions filed pursuant to this Code are routinely denied. Between 1994 and 2010, only fifteen geriatric prisoners were .granted early release pursuant this Code despite the growing costs to taxpayers for their end-of-life medical care.

Despite the current decades-long "tough on crime political rhetoric, the only chance for prisoners like us to regain our freedom is through an act of clemency Governor Terence McAuliffe. Article V, Section 12 of the V.A. Constitution and V.A. Codes 53.1-229 through 53.1-231 grants McAuliffe inherent power and discretion to grant clemency to prisoners in the form of conditional pardons or commutation (reduction) of sentences. Because many of us are first-time felons; were given harsh sentences far outside the recommended sentencing guidelines; were in our youth when we committed our crimes; and are serving de facto (practical) life terms without the benefit of parole and with no reasonable opportunity for release, these are compelling factors that warrants the grant of conditional pardons or sentence commutations in our cases. In addition, these are compelling reasons why Parole should be reinstated here in Virginia. As it presently stands, we will die in prison before our release dates come to fruition unless Governor McAuliffe exercise his clemency/pardon powers in our cases or reinstate parole.

Why No Parole In Virginia?

A federal law known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (VCCLEA), includes a provision called the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing incentive grants (VOITIS), which provided grants to state and local correctional systems to expand their capacity to incarcerate violent offenders and to impose longer and more determinate sentences.

VOITIS, codified into federal law as Title 42, U.S.C.S., sections 13701, 13702, 13703, 13704,was sponsored and introduced to the U.S. Congress by former Representative Jack Brooks (TX-9) and signed into law the following year by then-President Bill Clinton. (See Title 42, U.S.C.S., sections 13701, 13702, 13703, 13704 attached hereto at Exhibit A).

Before a state could qualify for grants under VOITIS, states were required to pass Truth-in-Sentencing legislation which effectively abolished parole, mandating prisoners convicted of a felony {(serve not less than 85 percent of the sentence imposed (without counting time not actually served, such as administrative or statutory incentives for good behavior)." Section 13704.

VOITIS was the inspiration behind Virginia adopting its own legislation abolishing parole and mandating that prisoners serve no less than 85 percent of our sentences for crimes committed on or after January 1, 1995. This tegisiation (House Bill No. 5001) was sponsored by then-Republican Delegate Randy Forbes and signed into law by then-Republican Governor George Allen during a 1994 special session of the Virginia General Assembly. House Bill 5001 was later codified into Virginia law as V.A. Code 53.1-165.1. (See V.A. Code 53.1-165.1 attached hereto at Exhibit B). Consequently, the amount of good time credits prisoners received to reduce the period of incarceration for good behavior was effectively reduced from a maximum of thirty days credit for each thirty days served under V.A. Code 53.1-201 (before parole was abolished), to a maximum of four and one-half days credit for each thirty days served under V.A. Code 53;.1-202.3 (after parole was abolished). (See V.A. Codes 53.1-201 and 53.1-202.3 attached hereto at Exhibit C). Because of this legislation, Virginia's prison population ballooned from just 18,000 in 1994 to 40,000 in 2013.

Between 1996 and 1998, twenty-eight states that enacted Truth-in-Sentencing legislation collective received over $680 million in VOITIS grants. See Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Violent

Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Program: voitis.

Fifteen out of twenty-seven states that received VOITIS grants in 1997 indicated that these grants were either a key or partial factor in their enactment of Truth-in-Sentencing legislation which effectively abolished parole, including Virginia.

Between 1996 and 1998, Virginia alone received a total of $11, 201, 786 in VOITIS grants, which partly funded the construction of two super maximum and two maximum-security prisons: Wallens Ridge State Prison, Red Onion State Prison, Sussex One State Prison and Sussex Two State Prison. All four of these high-tech prisons began accepting prisoners in 1997 and 1998, many of them contracted from out of state.

Because of tough on crime policies like those mentioned above, the overall U.S. prison population grew 700% between 1970 and 2010. Consequently, America currently incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Even though Blacks and Latinos collectively make up 30% of the U.S. population, we account for 75% of the total U.S. prison population. Specifically in Virginia, Blacks make up only 20% of the statewide population, but 60% of the total state prison population.

Truth-in-Sentencing and Three Strikes laws, in addition to VCCLEA, VOITIS, and subsequent abolition of parole laws disproportionately affects poor people and people of color. These draconian laws represent a gross raaial and social injustice which has persisted within America's system of legal jurisprudence for far too long. A question that we present to you and members of the General Assembly is: if VOITIS grants were a key or partial factor in Virginia abolishing parole and enacting Truth-in- Sentencing legislation, and if Virginia stopped receiving VOITIS grants in 2007, why are we still forced to serve 85% of our sentences and why hasn't parole been reinstated?

As of 2014, the V.A. Dept. of Corrections' annual operating budget has grown to consume almost $1 billion of Virginia's tax dollars. This is happening at time when you announced $20.3 million in cuts to the V.A. Dept. of Corrections budget to close a $2.4 billion revenue shortfall/deficit in the two-year state budget. It costs Virginia's taxpayers approximately $30,000 a year to keep long-term, rehabilitated prisoners locked up for crimes we committed decades ago in our youth. These tax dollars would be better served financing early childhood (pre-k) education; pay raises for underpaid school teachers; rebuilding antiquated and dilapidated school buildingsi community-based drug treatment and prevention programs; community-based domestic violence intervention programs; community-based gang violence prevention/intervention programs; community-based social/outreach organizations that: feed the hungry, house the homeless, employ the jobless, provides free medical care for unemployed poor people, and mentorship programs that provides structure and guidance for at-risk youth; and community-ba$ed reentry programs that assist newly released prisoners in transitioning from anti-social attitudes and behaviors- which often leads to crime- to becoming pro-social, forward-thinking, contributing members of our communities.

In conclusion, the abolition of parole has not significantly prevented, reduced, or deterred crime any more than it did prior to 1995. The abolition of parole has resulted in a dramatic increase in the prison population which has left prisons overcrowded, understaffed, operating over budget, and has left many long-term rehabilitated prisoners languishing in prison for decades will no realistic opportunity for release for crimes we committed in our youth. As the matters presented in this petition evidences, the abolition of parole in Virginia was never about crime prevention or public safety. It was about trading human lives and freedoms in exchange for federal grants to expand an already massive for-profit prison industrial complex resulting in the construction of prisons that weren't needed.

In consideration of the above, we, the Undersigned prisoners at Buckingham Correctional Center, prays that the spirit of mercy, fair- ness and justice will move you to grant us clemency in the form of conditi:onal pardons or sentence commutations. Further, we pray .that you and members of the Senate and House of Delegates will take a bi- partisan approach in the 2016 General Assembly Session to : 1) AMEND and REENACT V.A.Code 19.2-303 to allow prisoners serving lengthy prison terms (de facto (practical) numerical life sentences) for felonies committed on or after January 1, 1995- upon complet.lon of an Education/Rehabilitation/Reentry Preparedness Program and after serving a base minimum of twenty (20) consecutive years- to petition the court that heard the case for a suspension or reduction of the un- served portion of the sentence; 2) AMEND and REENACT V.A. Code 19.2- 298.0l(F) so that the failure to impose a $entence within the recommended by the sentencing guidelines to. be reviewable of and 3) REPEAL V.A. Codes 53.1-165.1 and 53.1-202.3 which will effect- ively abolish long-standing draconian Truth-in-Sentencing practices, restore Geod Conduct Allowances (Credits) under VrA. Code 53.1-201, and restore/reinstate discretionary parole eligibility under Code 53.1-151 through 53.1-155. The effects of amending and repealing the above Codes shall be RETROACTIVELY applied to all prisoners currenly held in the Virginia,Department of Corrections.