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More than 7K state prison inmates eligible for reduced sentences in Virginia

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The expiration date for the prohibition on enhanced earned sentence credits for inmates convicted of both violent and nonviolent offenses was July 1.

As a result, more than 7,000 violent offenders are now eligible for reduced sentences, according to a press release from the Office of the Attorney General.

Approximately 25 percent have been identified as high-risk for violent recidivism, according to information from the AG office.

But according to an issue brief on the program from the ACLU of Virginia, people who are incarcerated have to follow prison rules, work, educate themselves, and participate in programming that has helped at the federal level to reduce recidivism by 37 percent.

The ACLU has claimed claimed the inmates, and thousands of others, had been denied enhanced credits according to the 2020 law. The inmates served months or years beyond their sentences.

The ACLU, in November, sued Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares and state corrections officials on behalf of a handful of inmates, claiming that the inmates, and thousands of others, had been denied enhanced credits according to the 2020 law.

The inmates, according to the ACLU, had served months or years beyond their sentences.

In early November, the Virginia Department of Corrections released one of the ACLUs clients and said enhanced credits would now be awarded to the other inmates convicted of attempted aggravated murder, robbery or carjacking, solicitation or conspiracy to commit any of the crimes.

The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in summer 2023 in favor of another ACLU client, who was convicted of attempted aggravated murder. The VADOC was ordered to release the inmate based on enhanced credits.

“This change represents a very belated recognition by VADOC that there are many people who never should have been excluded from expanded earned sentence credits, even under VADOC’s own faulty reasoning,” Vishal Agraharkar, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Virginia, wrote in an email to the AP.

Youngkin issued a budget amendment to reduce how many inmates could use the benefit, as he and Miyares were concerned about inmates convicted of violent crimes being released and spiking crime in Virginia. However, criminal justice reform advocates and lawmakers, who passed the law in 2020, said the benefit will incentivize inmates to pursue new skills, counseling and rehabilitation. The 2020 law allows an inmate to earn 15 days per month served instead of only 4.5 days per month served.

“These alarming statistics are underscored by a disturbing truth my office uncovered in February: inmates released under the ‘enhanced’ earned sentence credit system are significantly more likely to reoffend and be rearrested – especially for violent crimes – than those released under the standard earned sentence credit system,” Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said.

“I believe in redemption and am a strong proponent for helping our returning citizens re-enter society to live productive lives. However, aggressive retroactive sentence reductions for violent criminals with a high risk of recidivism undermines our justice system and disregards victims. Good intentions do not equal good results. It’s increasingly clear that the enhanced earned sentence credit system poses a serious risk to Virginians.”

Miyares: Cutting violent crime sentences has ‘detrimental impact’ on Virginia public safety – Augusta Free Press

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.