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Virginia inmates now able to earn credits towards sentences while incarcerated

Posted at 10:24 AM, Jul 10, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- The start of July brought with it several new laws to Virginia including the Enhanced Earned Sentence Credit Program.

Under the program, some incarcerated people would be given time off their sentences based on good behavior. That program was first passed into law in 2020 but faced years of efforts by Virginia republicans to delay it.

State Senator Jennifer Boysko, who represents Virginia's 38th District, helped pass the law during the Northam administration. She says the program sets a high bar for inmates to earn credits. That includes following prison rules, working, and educating themselves.

".... records have shown in other states as well as federal programs that recidivism does, is reduced through programs that help people get on the way to success, like our own sentence credit," Senator Boysko explained.

But some Virginia republicans have pushed back on the effort, including Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares. He claims that of the 445 inmates eligible for immediate release 16 are serving time for first degree murder convictions, 22 for rape or sexual assault and 46 for abductions.

"... alarmingly roughly 25 percent of these inmates are slated as having a high risk of recidivism," Miyares stressed. "I want to be clear I believe in redemption and returning citizens rejoining our society but I also believe our criminal justice system works if you do the crime you do the time. And we certainly shouldn't be reducing sentences for those that are considered of having a high likelihood of repeat offenses."

One Virginian in favor of the new law is Sam Harris. He was sentenced to two decades in jail for drug crimes, robbery and car jacking. Harris was due to be released next year but was pardoned by Governor Glenn Youngkin.

He says there are many like him that are waiting on their chance for redemption.

"Most of the guys that I've served time with, a majority of them have earned a way to get out of there," Harris recalled. "Now they have earned their right to do this was like, like I just mentioned, this earn centers wasn't given to us, we earned it."

Supporters of the program add that the early release program could save the Commonwealth millions of dollars. The ACLU of Virginia estimates that at least $28 million will be saved in the first two years of the program.

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