Home Miyares: Cutting violent crime sentences has ‘detrimental impact’ on Virginia public safety
Public Safety, Virginia

Miyares: Cutting violent crime sentences has ‘detrimental impact’ on Virginia public safety

Rebecca Barnabi
prison jail
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Attorney General Jason Miyares today sent a letter to the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate regarding concerns over the 2020 enhanced earned sentence credit law and a proposal to allow violent offenders to receive sentence reductions.

Miyares encouraged the adoption of Gov. Glenn Youngkin‘s proposed budget item 390 R.2. to address the concerns.

“Cutting sentences for violent crime, especially in cases identified as a high risk for recidivism, is having a detrimental impact on public safety throughout Virginia,” Miyares said in the letter. “Aggressive sentence reductions for violent criminals and those with high risk for recidivism disregards past and future victims. Allowing such a practice is not justice, and it’s not safe.”

Virginia’s earned sentence credit program was expanded in 2020 to permit sentence reductions for qualifying inmates. Evidence now shows that since 2020, the enhanced earned sentence credits program poses a danger to Virginians and to public safety stemming from the risk of recidivism by violent offenders. The Attorney General’s brief breaks down recidivism data from the legislation’s first full year, showing that:

  • Inmates released under the enhanced earned sentence credits have a significantly higher recidivism rate than those under the previous program.
  • In 2023, 2,725 enhanced earned sentence credit offenders were rearrested for new crimes, including three capital murders, eight first degree murders, four second degree murders, 48 abductions, and 28 rapes and other felony sexual assaults.
  • 1,334 offenders released on enhanced earned sentence credits in 2023 have been convicted of a new crime or probation violation
  • The EESC system forced the early release of 1,598 offenders categorized as a high risk for violent recidivism and 2,369 offenders categorized as a high risk for general recidivism.
  • Over 50 percent of the offenders released through EESC and re-convicted had a high or medium risk of general recidivism and close to 50 percent also had a high or medium risk of violent recidivism.

The current biennial budget temporarily prohibits the application of enhanced sentence credits to inmates who were convicted of a mix of violent and nonviolent offenses in the same act or transaction. However, the temporary prohibition expires July 1, 2024, and without further action, 8,300 offenders would qualify to have their sentences reduced and 99.6 percent have been convicted of a violent felony according to Department of Corrections data.

For taxpayers, the changes will cost at least $7.3 million annually, as the Department of Corrections evaluates the personnel required to supervise the continued influx of new offenders on probation. Technology-related expenses have already cost taxpayers $1.3 million, and continued changes to the legislation will incur additional expenses.

“I urge the General Assembly to consider these cost concerns and recent recidivism data as you continue to address budgetary and legislative changes regarding the earned sentence credit program this session,” Miyares said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.