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