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Monday, September 28, 2015

A Photo Inspires Appeals For Parole Reform

This photo of some of the Commonwealth's aging inmate population has been widely circulated
When members of Governor McAuliffe's new Parole Review Commission reconvene this afternoon they will have written copies provided of concerns expressed by citizens from throughout Virginia, including the following eloquent statements:

from Douglas Hendren, M.D., M.B.A. Harrisonburg:

"It has come to my attention that Virginia has a large and increasing population of aging, low-risk offenders who would be eligible for parole in most of the United States, but not presently in Virginia.

"As a physician, I am well aware of the enormously escalating medical costs associated with advancing age. As a citizen, I have learned about the steep decline in recidivism in the aging inmate population when released on parole.

"I have recently learned that the Virginia Department of Corrections released only 3% of those eligible for parole in 2014. This is an appalling low figure, reflecting either an utterly ineffective system of corrections, or questionable judgment regarding parole.

"It makes little sense to burden the taxpayer with indefinite custody and escalating cost of an elderly, low-risk prison population. It shows little compassion, little fiscal sense and little common sense.
   
"The goal of correction should be ultimately to return the majority of offenders safely back into society. The system should be designed and implemented at every level with this goal in mind. Anything less is beneath us as a civilized society, and a foolish burden on Virginia taxpayers as well."


from retired prison chaplain William H. Dent, Jr., Harrisonburg:

"As a former chaplain at Powhatan and James River Correctional Centers, I can tell you I have witnessed the distress of many current and former prisoners who though eligible for parole have been denied and told essentially not to expect it.  It has been an implied promise issued at sentencing and routinely broken for some outstandingly good citizens without citizenship, prisoners in Virginia prisons.  It seems to me that the Board has become almost infinitely afraid of making a mistake by granting parole and almost totally comfortable with the probability that they might make many mistakes by denying it.

"Reinstating parole for all prisoners could be very good, but only if we really mean to do all we can to get the former offenders out of prison as soon as reasonably possible and with the kind of help that can enable them to become established as contributing members of society.  The Gemeinschaft Home in Harrisonburg is part of the answer and an example of one thing we are doing right for a fraction of the population that can be released and are being released, many without equivalent needed support.  We pay the price of doing things right or the higher price of picking up the pieces."

Please address your own comments and concerns to Vernita.Boone@vadoc.virginia.gov who will forward them to members of the Commission.
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