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Virginia Hawks Parolees' Names

Beginning in July 1996, the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) began publishing what has so far proven to be a hot seller: lists of parolees' names, address, offenses, sex and race. The parolee lists costs $5 per zip code. Bargain hunters, however, can purchase a parolee list covering the entire state for $37.50. That comes to about a third of a cent per parolee's name.

The Virginia ACLU is protesting the policy. In an Aug. 1 letter to Gov. George Allen, state ACLU executive director Kent Willis wrote, "Unless you retract or significantly redesign this policy, it will surely be used in future years as a study in how state policy should not be made."

David Botkins, a DOC spokesperson, said the Attorney General's Office has reviewed the policy and that state officials were confident the program was legal. All parolees had to be notified under the state Privacy Act. Botkins said that notices were mailed to all 10,000 parolees.

As of August 1, the DOC had received 625 inquiries, and 230 responses were sent out - numbers that outpaced expected demand. "It s really fulfilling to hear some of the people that are calling in ... they really appreciate that the department is doing this," Botkins said.

The ACLU's Kent Willis said the program "amounts to a third kind of punishment" that wasn't included in the original sentence. He said the state was "almost encouraging vigilantism by making this information available," and the policy stigmatizes parolees.

Botkins denied the state was stigmatizing anyone. 'Convicted felons have already stigmatized themselves by committing crime," he said. He pointed out that the DOC wasn't forcing the information on anyone. 'It's not like we're hawking it on the street corner," he said.

Like many other "get tough" policies which are initially targeted at a sub-group of prisoners, sex offenders, this Virginia policy is only the first indication that widespread application of "Meagan's Law" type notification procedures may some day be applied to all prisoners and ex-prisoners. PLN will keep readers informed of further developments in this area.

-Corrections Digest

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