By Rob Bell, June 30, 2015, Richmond Times
Governor McAuliffe has announced a commission to study the reinstatement of parole. Such a step would undo the most important public safety reform of the past 20 years, and would be an enormous step backward for Virginia.
First, a bit of history. Prior to 1994, prison sentences were not truly set by the judge and jury. Long after the verdict, an inmate could apply to the parole board, which would hold a hearing and could then reduce the sentence. Many inmates were released early, having served only one-quarter or even one-fifth of their original sentences.
Such a system is fundamentally deceitful, opaque and unfair to crime victims. At a criminal trial, evidence of the crime is presented. The victim or surviving family members have a right to describe the impact the crime had on them. The defendant gets his chance to present mitigating evidence. Then, after deliberation, the jury recommends the sentence, which is then reviewed by the judge. (In a bench trial, the judge performs these roles.)
In my work as a prosecutor, I observed how seriously juries worked to reach their unanimous sentence. This deliberation often took as long or longer than determining guilt. Victims care enormously about how long the defendant will be detained. At the conclusion, the sentence is announced to the public, closing the trial. Continue reading »