Early-Release-For-Murderers Bill Advances

A Virginia Senate committee voted Friday 9-to-5 (largely along party lines) to make many murderers eligible for release when they reach age 50. SB 624 effectively reinstates parole for many long-time inmates, even though the Virginia legislature abolished parole in 1995. The bill also guts Virginia’s three-strikes law, which required life without parole for offenders convicted of three separate murders, rapes, or robberies, or any combination of the three.

SB 624 would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. Inmates would not be eligible for geriatric release under the bill if they committed a “Class 1 felony,” but such felonies are reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. First-degree murder, classified as a Class 2 felony, would be affected by the bill.

Supporters of the bill cited low recidivism rates by offenders previously given “geriatric release” in their 60s or later ages. But that doesn’t justify granting geriatric release to people in their 50s, who are younger and more capable of committing murder and rape. Moreover, changes to the parole board’s composition may lead to higher rates of geriatric release in the future, resulting in the release of higher-risk offenders.

The bill’s backers also cited high medical costs incurred by older inmates and the resultant savings to state prisons when someone is granted conditional release. But most of those savings are illusory. As a former state official notes, the medical costs for the state likely do not go away when a prison inmate is released: “The offender will likely still be on Medicaid. It is true that there will some savings because Medicaid will cover outpatient costs for a released inmate, but not those of one incarcerated. However, the big costs are inpatient costs and Medicaid covers those whether an offender is in prison or not.”

Moreover, people in their 50s have lower average medical costs than people in their 60s. So releasing inmates in their 50s makes less sense than releasing them in their 60s.

— Hans Bader

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11 responses to “Early-Release-For-Murderers Bill Advances

  1. Once upon a time parole was a common part of the corrections system. Then the pendulum swung and “no parole” became the mantra, coupled with changes in the sentencing that actually reduced many of the “advertised” years of incarceration, which were often misleading (few served the full sentence). Now the pendulum is swinging back toward more opportunities for parole. Juries may respond by…..adding years to sentences! There are few new ideas, really….just a big wheel.

    Are you really cowering in fear, Bader? Or just want to stir folks up….

    • More data would be helpful. I’ve read in Virginia newspapers that before parole was abolished, prisoners served only 30% of their sentences. It sounds like the current parole board is not that forgiving. But that could easily change in the future. The board is appointed by the governor, who can remove them at any time for any reason, right? Will a future, more staunchly progressive governor appoint parole board members who release most inmates who reach age 50? There’s also the issue of duplicative reductions in sentences. If jurors already reduced someone’s sentence because they thought parole was no longer available, is it fair to retroactively give the inmate parole to further shorten the inmate’s sentence? (as the parole board could do when they hit age 50). As you point out, juries react to the presence or absence of parole by recommending different sentence lengths. I have to wonder whether the current parole board is relatively stingy with parole grants precisely so as not to undermine legislation like this that would give them much more power to parole inmates. They may behave very differently after the bill passes. And the governor might replace a former prosecutor on the board with, say, a criminal defense lawyer or former inmate who favors lots of parole grants.

  2. Yeah.. all I can really get out of Mr. Bader is kind of a hard line , take no prisoners approach.

    Once people get out, they still have to report to a parole officer and perhaps some sort of halfway house is possible.

    The point it, some kind of intelligent compromise ought to be possible and it should be done on a basis of it being changed/modified per experience.

    I do not want hard core violent people on the loose – but some of these folks in prison for murder – they did not actually kill intentionally and premeditatedly kill someone. Often someone did get killed but the circumstances are not that of a craven purposeful killing – yet the folks opposed – like Mr.Bader are painting a picture of something as if it were a Class 1 felony.. with play on the words.

    To me that is not an honest debate on the merits.. it borders on demagoguery. in some respects not that different than other issues like immigration and abortion.

    There is no attempt to find common ground. It’s just the same old same old tribal warfare.

    • The irony is that Bader obsesses over the likely release of a few hundred older inmates under this bill, when far fewer inmates will be paroled under it than under another bill he hasn’t even noticed, SB 103, which would allow all juvenile offenders to seek parole after 20 years — even Class 1 offenders (unlike this bill) who committed their killings at age 16 or 17.

      That legislation is sailing through the legislature, with nary a peep from Bader. Even though it is far more permissive than necessary with parole.

      In light of the Supreme Court’s 8th Amendment decisions, teen criminals generally do need to be allowed to seek parole at some point — but Virginia’s pre-existing geriatric release provisions (as age 60) probably satisfy the 8th Amendment, and even if they don’t, no one seriously argues that parole eligibility for teenage killers has to be after 20 years — as opposed to 30 years — to satisfy the 8th Amendment. In fact, in 2019, the juvenile parole legislation (which died on a tie vote in the senate) provided for parole after 25 years, not 20 years as the current session legislation does.

      But weirdly, Bader has not written about that bill at all.

      • Actually, there are so many uncertainties about how many inmates will be released under these bills that one can’t predict the relative numbers of inmates released under these bills with any precision. An awful lot turns on the future makeup of the parole board, which may turn heavily on the future governor’s ideology, and the future political climate, in a state that is moving leftward. I would guess that these factors weigh in favor of far more geriatric releases in the future than is the case now, and far more grants of parole in the future than is the case now. But that’s just a guess.

  3. This use of headlines screaming early release of murderers borders on fear mongering. Let’s look at facts.

    Over the three-year period of FY 206-FY 2018, a total of 1,673 inmates were considered by the Parole Board for geriatric release. The board granted 89 of those requests, a grant rate of five percent.

    The current Parole Board has not been any more generous. In November 2019, the latest month for which a report is available, the Board considered 40 geriatric requests. It granted one request, a grant rate of 2.5 percent.

    In making its decisions on these cases, it is clear that the Board is intensely aware of an offender’s background and that persons who committed violent offenses are extremely unlikely to be released. The Board does not provide any explanation for its decision to release offenders, but is required by law to provide an explanation for its decision to deny parole or geriatric release. Here are the reasons cited for its denial of geriatric release in the individual cases (some reasons for cited for multiple cases):
    Release would diminish seriousness of offense;
    Extensive criminal record
    History of violence
    History of substance abuse
    Serious nature and circumstances of offense

    In some cases, the Board cited the specific crimes committed by the offender as reason for denying geriatric release. Those offenses included 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder, sexual assault, abduction, carjacking, burglary, attempted rape, child sexual assault, child pornography.

    The proposal would only expand the pool of offenders eligible for geriatric release. Anyone newly eligible would have served at least 15 years. There is no reason to believe that the Parole Board will be any more liable to release murderers or violent offenders than it is now.

    As for “gutting” the three-strikes law, that statute, with one exception, now allows any offender subject to it to be eligible for geriatric release under the same criteria available to all offenders otherwise eligible. The exception is for those convicted of criminal sexual assault. The proposed bill would make them newly eligible for geriatric release, but, as noted above, the Parole Board has not been willing to release offenders convicted of such offenses.

    • There is no guarantee there won’t be a lot of releases if this bill passes. If the current parole board wants this bill to pass, it has an incentive to be very restrained in granting geriatric releases until after this bill passes, so that prosecutors and crime victims won’t mobilize against it. Then, after the bill passes, it can release lots of inmates. So maybe it is being stingier with parole grants now than it will be after this law is enacted. The governor could easily make the parole board much more liberal with releases just by replacing a parole board member or two with a criminal defense lawyer or adding yet another former ACLU activist to the board. Reducing the age from 60 to 50 for geriatric released dramatically expands the parole board’s power to release inmates, because so many more inmates are in their 50s. I also think a future Democratic governor will appoint parole board members who release a lot more inmates than the current governor, who is a mainstream center-left figure who doesn’t like rocking the boat. Most Democratic politicians in Virginia are to Ralph Northam’s left.

      • All the commenters are concentrating on the age of 50. There is another criterion–the 50-year old offender must have served at least 20 years of his sentence before being eligible for geriatric release. Therefore, anyone released under the provisions of this bill would have served a significant prison sentence. Furthermore, not everyone over 50 in prison has served at least 20 years; therefore turning 50 is not going to automatically make an offender eligible.

        The administration missed an opportunity to quiet some of these fears by not providing some analysis of how many additional offenders would be eligible. Perhaps the FIS, when DPB has had time to prepare it, will have this data.

        I really do not think the Parole Board has been operating with ulterior motives in mind as you suggest. If this legislation passes, it will be interesting to see if their pattern of decision making changes.

  4. Anyone who has not had a close friend or family member murdered should opine on this topic with humility and caution. The murdered do not get to return to life. Some wonder why the murderer should ever be released.

    • I do not disagree with musingsfromjanus per se but I don’t agree with the “keep them all locked up” mindset.

      There actually ARE vicitims who have advocated for release of the murderers of their loved ones.

      People who kill other people and did not directly intend to do so – with premeditation are not the same as stone cold violent killers – and it’s wrong to characterize them all as if they are the same. It pollutes any kind of reasonable discussion on the merits.

      This is not a way to try to find common ground.

      I’d be opposed to the release of most any Class 1 offenders especially if they have a history of violence. Tney have demontrated they are a serious danger to society and no matter how “good” they have been – we cannot take a chance that they’d not repeat their violence towards others.

      People who did not purposely and directly kill someone – there needs to be some latitude out of simple fairness and if nothing else that we do stipulate a time-period to pay their debt for their crime.

      No, this is NOT easy and there are competing narratives that are valid but the idea that we categorize these folks the same way as stone cold killers is just wrong.

      I gave the example of a King George person – who hit and killed a pedestrian as the SECOND car that hit him – and he made a terrible mistake -he left the scene. And he has been charged with murder – and he may well be convicted of it. He’s NOT the same as someone who committed a Class 1 murder. He actually was a School Board member!

      The circumstances matter. I’m NOT willing to put someone away for 40 years for something like SOME cases of hit and run. The fact that they ran SHOULD be a crime but it should not make the primary crime – murder. It’s just wrong.

      At any rate – we cannot even have a reasoned debate on this when one side starts with : ” A bill to release murderers”.

  5. Don’t worry. Guns will soon be illegal, so these criminals, when they are released, will pose no threat.

    Go about your day and toke on your marijuana joint (which will soon be legal) and REEELAX!

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