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Lawmakers: Va. Parole Board must justify denials

(by Kathy Adams,, February 16, 2013, Link)

Starting this summer, the state's Parole Board would have to justify why it denies a prisoner's petition for release.

HB2103, passed by the General Assembly this week, requires the board to conduct a "timely and thorough review" of parole cases and, if it denies them, to provide specific reasons.

Virginia largely did away with parole in 1995, but several thousand inmates sentenced prior to that remain eligible for early release each year. As of last year, about 4,500 qualified for parole.

Few of them receive it. The Parole Board grants early release to about 2 or 3 percent of eligible prisoners. They deny the rest, citing general reasons such as the nature of the offenses or saying the inmates remain threats to public safety.

That's not good enough, said the bill's patron, Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax County. He noted there are prisoners who committed their crimes more than 35 years ago who have been before the Parole Board more than a dozen times but are denied each time because of the nature of their crime or other vague reasons.

"There are people who have been eligible for parole many times and only receive a very short answer with nothing to help them understand what to do in the future to be better prepared," Sickles told the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, which unanimously approved the bill.

HB2103 unanimously passed both General Assembly chambers but still requires the governor's signature.

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