Virginia Likely to Reinstate Parole for Murderers

by Hans Bader

Senator Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, predicts that Virginia’s senate will vote to bring back parole in 2022 — “across the board,” meaning for even the most serious crimes, such as murder. Restoring parole could increase the number of murders, rapes, and robberies in Virginia. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

A movement to reinstate parole in Virginia could hinge on the outcome of election results next month. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe has indicated willingness to support expanded parole …. While many Democrats support reinstating parole broadly in Virginia, Republicans generally oppose it. The Democrats hold a 55-45 seat edge in the House of Delegates. … The issue will be debated in next year’s General Assembly session.

“I will be introducing a bill that will reintroduce parole across the board,” said Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond. “I think it will pass [the] Senate Judiciary [Committee] and … the full body.” Democrats control the Senate 21-19. Senators are not up for election until 2023. But Morrissey said he predicts a possible roadblock to parole expansion in the House, where he thinks Republicans will make gains in the Nov. 2 election. … Virginia created parole in 1942 and abolished it in 1995, passing a “truth in sentencing” law among other criminal justice measures in an effort to reduce high crime rates….

Democrats who control the legislature [have already] approved a bill to allow juvenile offenders … to be considered for parole. Democrats also expanded a program that allows people to earn time off their sentences for nonviolent offenses….

Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison is among advocates for Virginia’s truth-in-sentencing law who oppose restoration of parole. That law and others helped reduced violent crime, she said. “Virginia, like many other states, had high violent crime rates from the ’80s into the mid ’90s, and so they instituted evidence-based reforms,” she said. “The truth in sentencing reforms, I think, were very important for our jurors when they’re making sentencing decisions, as well as important for our victims.”

Sometimes, murderers kill again after being paroled. One example is Kenneth McDuff, also known as the broomstick killer. At the age of 19, McDuff and a buddy kidnapped three other teenagers. He shot and killed two boys, then killed a girl after raping her and torturing her with burns and a broomstick. After being paroled, he murdered additional women — as many as 15 women across several states.

Some murderers continue to kill even an advanced age. At the age of 76, Albert Flick murdered a woman, stabbing her at least 11 times while her twin children watched. He had previously been imprisoned from 1979 to 2004 for killing his wife by stabbing her 14 times in front of her daughter.

Legislation backed by Senator Morrissey would not just bring back parole, but retroactively make people eligible for parole even if they were sentenced at a time at which there was no parole. It would be be made available even to people who commit “a Class 1 felony,” which includes aggravated murders, such as serial killers who commit the “willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of more than one person” in a single crime spree. Because the death penalty was abolished in Virginia in 2021, restoring parole could make it possible for even the worst murderers to be paroled.

Virginia largely abolished parole 25 years ago, due to discontent over the fact that criminals were serving only about 30% of their sentences before being released. Most willful and premeditated murders are Class 2 offenses, for which parole would be available up to 15 years if parole is restored.

Retroactively making prisoners eligible for parole could result in unfair double-counting: It would shorten sentences that a jury already shortened based on the assumption that parole does not exist. Under the Virginia Supreme Court’s Fishback decision, criminals have been entitled to seek a shorter sentence from the jury based on the argument that parole was not available.

Parole could be sought over and over again: before parole was abolished, relatives of murder victims would show up at parole hearings every year in an effort to keep the killer of their loved one from being released. Testifying before the parole board took its toll on survivors, forcing them to relive the crime.

By reducing the amount of time inmates serve, restoring parole could increase the crime rate. Studies indicate that longer periods of incarceration deter many crimes from being committed; they don’t merely prevent people who are already inmates from committing more crimes — although they do that, too. For example, a study found that longer sentences deterred people from committing murder, robbery, and rape. (See Daniel Kessler & Steven J. Levitt, Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish Between Deterrence and Incapacitation, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper #6484 (1998)).

Allowing judges to retroactively shorten sentences could also reopen old wounds for crime victims. Victims would no longer have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their rapist, or the person who killed their family members, is off the street and no longer able to harm them.

Restoring parole could result in Virginia having a high crime rate like neighboring Maryland, which has parole. Maryland has a violent crime rate more than double Virginia’s. In 2018, Maryland had a violent crime rate of 468.7 per 100,000 people, according to USA Today, compared to a violent crime rate of only 200 per 100,000 in Virginia.

Forty years ago, Virginia’s Fairfax County had a similar crime rate to Montgomery County, Md., which is demographically and economically similar. But that changed after prison sentences became longer in Virginia, and Virginia eliminated parole. Fairfax County ended up with a much lower crime rate than Montgomery County.

ABC’s channel 7 discussed this in 2019 in “Why is Montgomery County’s violent crime rate twice as high as neighboring Fairfax County.” Law enforcement sources attributed Montgomery’s higher crime rate to the fact “that the Maryland Judiciary is, generally speaking, more lenient on criminal defendants” and the fact that “Virginia has stricter laws on the books” and “harsh sentences,” which are “a huge deterrent” to crime. “Criminals know if you commit crime in Virginia you might get whacked, while in Maryland, you might just get slapped on the wrist.”

Hans Bader is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. This column was published originally at Liberty Unyielding.

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9 responses to “Virginia Likely to Reinstate Parole for Murderers”

  1. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    If this is what Virginians want…

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Nothing new about Morrissey and others in the defense bar joining with those who think the criminal justice system is “unfair” to advocate for easy and commonplace parole. I appreciate Joe being this honest about his intentions this close to the election. It is indeed one of the many bright line issues this year. To distract you, the Democrats at all levels will be buying another 100K rating points in all media in two weeks to scream the name Trump.

  2. Jail must be reserved for those who entered the US Capitol on 6 January and ‘some’ of those who ignore Congressional subpoenas and/or lie to Congress — but only those people from the incorrect political party.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Like Steve, I appreciate Morrissey being upfront about his intentions. Despite his optimism, however, I would be surprised if the GA reinstated parole. The possibility may be clearer when the Crime Commission makes its report and recommendations later. That body has meetings scheduled on Nov. 4, Nov. 15, and Dec. 8. Parole is not scheduled to be discussed at the Nov. 4 meeting.

    A problem with Crime Commission studies is that they are conducted by staff and there is no public discussion until the staff reports in the late fall. If parole is to be reinstated, there will be some complex ripple effects, especially where the sentencing guidelines are concerned. Unless the Crime Commission makes recommendations regarding those ripple effects, it will be difficult to sort them out during the 2022 Session.

    1. Another ripple effect is that people, whether on the street or in their homes/workplaces, will be safer.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I interpret your comment as saying that having no parole keeps people safer. That is not necessarily true. Comparing states is always tricky, but the following states had lower violent crimes in 2019 than Virginia, while also releasing offenders on parole: Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey (!), and Vermont. Kentucky with a violent crime rate of 217.1 per 100,000 population was very close to Virginia’s 208 per 100,000, despite Kentucky releasing offenders on parole.

        1. Can Criminals commit crimes against law abiding citizens while in jail? Simple question – yes or no?

  4. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    Most violent criminals commit crimes interracially and within their own community. That being said if people who already are in areas with a disparate violent crime impact want criminals to come home early to commit more crimes then who am I to stop them. Let them have their little experiment. Just don’t cry why those chickens come home to roost.

  5. I have no objection to reinstating parole for the majority of offenders, but only if a sentence of “life in prison without the possibility of parole” is also adopted as a sentencing option for those who commit the most heinous crimes, especially those for which the death penalty used to be an option.

    Obviously, the law would need to be structured so that those who received a sentence of “life in prison without the possibility of parole” are completely removed from whatever parole system was adopted.

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