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Virginia Swipes Sentence Credits From 560 Prisoners Just About to Get Out

by David M. Reutter

Just as the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was preparing to release 560 prisoners in July 2022, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and state lawmakers stepped in with a budget amendment that stripped away sentence credits, leaving the prisoners in their cells.

“They dangled this hope in their faces and then they snatched it up from under their feet 10 days before they were supposed to be released,” said Chari Baker, whose husband was impacted by the amendment. “That’s ridiculous.”

The amendment alters a law passed in 2020 that allowed prisoners with good behavior who participated in rehabilitation programs to earn expanded sentence credits: 15 days per month off sentences for nonviolent offenses. Previously, prisoners could earn only four-and-a-half days per month.

The new law also allowed prisoners with combined violent and nonviolent offenses to earn expanded credits on their nonviolent sentences. Robert Glenn Ford was one who fit into that category. He was sentenced to 28 years in 1999 for participating in a murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the killing of two people at a car dealership. Ford expected to be released in July 2022 thanks to the 2020 law, which was enacted by a Democratic-controlled legislature and signed by former Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

But the law was delayed in taking effect until July 1, 2022, allowing DOC time to make necessary sentence-credit calculations. Then before anyone could be released, Youngkin submitted a budget amendment that excluded Ford and thousands of other prisoners convicted of violent offenses from earning expanded credits on their sentences for nonviolent offenses.

During debate on the amendment, lawmakers discussed the approximately 560 prisoners like Ford, who would be released in the first 60 days under the 2020 law. A DOC spokesperson said a total of 8,000 prisoners would become ineligible for expanded credits if the budget amendment passed. Nevertheless, the new Republican majority in the state House rallied behind Youngkin, and a few Senate Democrats crossed the aisle in their chamber to join them in approving the amendment.

Jerry James, who is serving 38 years for bank robbery, expected to have his release date moved up ten years under the 2020 law. Any hope of early release has now been dashed. “To get this news was beyond devastating,” said his wife, Paulettra. “It was heartbreaking.” 

Source: ABC News

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