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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Is Someone In Richmond Listening After All?

Photo by Tim Gruber, Kentucky State Reformatory
For years many of us have been urging the Virginia State Parole Board to free more older prisoners under the 1995 Geriatric Release Statute. This provides for an early release for persons age 60 or more who have served at least ten years of their sentence.

Studies have shown that the likelihood of inmates re-offending after they reach age 50 drops substantially, while the cost of caring for aging prisoners increases dramatically. However, of all of the inmates who applied for a release by reason of age last year, only 11 were approved out of an eligible pool of over 700 incarcerated individuals in Virginia prisons.

But there may be hope. I just had an inmate send me a copy of a letter by A. David Robinson, Chief Corrections Operations that is addressed to all Virginia State Prison Wardens and Superintendents with some encouraging news (emphases mine):

"Effective July 1, 2014, the Virginia Parole Board is required to interview and consider all eligible geriatric offenders for conditional release. Prior to that date, eligible geriatric offenders needed to apply for consideration, however, due to this change it is no longer necessary to apply. Each eligible offender will be scheduled by the Parole Board and reviewed annually. The Parole Examiners who currently interview discretionary eligible offenders will assume the new responsibility utilizing the same process and procedure."

There is no indication in the letter as to whether this change was ordered directly by the governor or just how or why it came about, but another good side to this is up until now an inmate could not apply for geriatric release and discretionary release during the same calendar year (discretionary release is for inmates who were incarcerated prior to parole being abolished in 1995). Now this no longer appears to be the case.

Whether this will result in more aging prisoners actually being freed remains to be seen, as every case is still at the discretion of the five-member Parole Board. Sadly, recent Boards, including the one just appointed by Governor McAuliffe, have granted parole to fewer than 4% of those eligible, which represents one of the lowest parole grant rates in the nation.

One of the men I correspond with in prison wrote, "A 72-year old man here was just granted geriatric release. He told me he had been in prison for 38 years and he is scared to death. He asked the warden whether he could stay here for reentry, but they transferred him to a new prison this morning. He is going to live with his sister when he gets out."

He went on to speak of his own situation, "I'm not old enough for geriatric release, but I've been behind bars for 21 years, have been a model prisoner and would be a model citizen if the Parole Board would give me that chance. The Governor does not understand that they are doing more harm by keeping us until we are no longer able to start our lives over again."

Check this link for more posts on this subject, then make a phone call and/or send a letter expressing your views to the following current members of the parole board and to the Governor, the Secretary of Public Safety and the Attorney General (along with a copy of this post if you wish):

Ms. Karen Brown, Chair
Algie T. Howell, Jr., Vice-Chair 
The Reverend Doctor A. Lincoln James
Mr. Sherman R. Lea

     c/o Virginia Parole Board
     6900 Atmore Drive
     Richmond, VA 23225
     (804) 674-3081

Governor Terry McAuliffe
P.O. Box 1475,
Richmond, Va.  23218
804-786-2211

Mr. Brian Moran
Office of the Secretary of Public Safety
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218
Office: 804-786-5351
Fax Line: 804-225-3882

Mr. Mark R. Herring
Office of the Attorney General
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-2071  
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