Let’s begin today with a quiz:
Where would you rather be during this COVID-19 epidemic, in a nursing home or a Virginia prison?
If you said “prison” you’re right. Of course any place in the commonwealth would be safer than a nursing home. As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health reported that 614 residents of long-term care facilities had died from the virus. That was an increase of 19 fatalities from Monday.
By contrast, only 5 inmates have died in all of Virginia’s correctional institutions since the beginning of the pandemic.
Yet we’re keeping frail people in nursing homes and letting criminals out of jail.
Meet the latest parolee: Horace Eugene Burnette III, who has the distinction of being the first man convicted of capital murder in Nelson County. He was sentenced in 1992 to life in prison plus 30 years for the murder-for-hire deaths of two women. He was released on April 2.
At 48, he still has a lot of his life ahead of him.
According to an account in The News & Advance Burnette participated in the 1990 murders of Carolyn D. Fox, 46 and Lillian J. Fox, 71. He and another man were hired to kill the two women so a relative could collect their insurance money and property.
The women were bludgeoned and burned alive.
Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Daniel Rutherford railed against the release on Facebook, saying that as has happened with other murderers paroled this spring, “almost every requirement by the parole board was not followed.” He said Burnette was “hastily released from prison” and his office was given very little notice.
The parole board has been on a freeing frenzy this spring. While they haven’t cited the virus as a reason for paroling prisoners, they have used it as an excuse for not following normal notification procedures in some cases.
As we’ve reported before, the board released 96 criminals in March. The Associated Press reported that 35 of those were charged with killings. In March of 2019 the board paroled just seven.
April’s numbers are not yet on the parole board’s website.
In addition to the criminals being paroled, the Department of Corrections has been ordered to simply release non-violent felons and those nearing the end of their sentences to help empty the prisons during the pandemic. It’s been reported that as many as 2,000 inmates could qualify for early release.
Alarmingly, Virginia’s prosecutors were told by the DOC last week that many re-entry programs have been dropped due to the virus.
In response to an email I sent last week for clarification, a DOC spokesman assured me that prisoners are prepared for release from the day they enter a correctional facility. He did, however, concede that “Under ordinary circumstances, everything about the reentry effort intensifies in the last six months…”
In the interest of protecting the community and ensuring that Virginia’s recidivism rate remains the lowest in the U.S., it’s critical that convicts get all of the support they need before they’re freed.
With so few fatalities in Virginia’s correctional facilities, perhaps the Northam administration should halt some of the hasty releases and return to freeing criminals the old-fashioned way: After they’ve served their time.There are currently no comments highlighted.