Saturday 29 January 2011

Seeking a Path Out of Prison in Virginia - petition

In the tough-on-crime days of the 1990s, Virginia took a pretty drastic step. Through a series of rule changes and quiet policy shifts, the state essentially eliminated parole. Now a coalition of grassroots activists is working to bring back a path to freedom for prisoners who have shown improvement and potential.
In 1989, The Washington Post reports, 42 percent of prisoners reviewed for parole in Virginia received it. After the reforms in the mid-1990s, that number dropped to just 2 percent. There is now very little incentive for an individual to work hard while in prison to improve him or herself -- there's simply no way to hasten one's return back to the free world. A bill before the state legislature aims to change that.
SB796 would provide avenues for Virginia prisoners to earn sentence credits ("good time") for participating in education and treatment programs. Prisoners could earn up to 4.5 days off their sentence for each month they serve -- so a prisoner could shave a year and a half off their sentence over 10 years. It's not exactly swinging the prison doors open or embracing alternatives to incarceration, but it's a huge step in the right direction, especially in a state without parole.
A coalition of activists organized by the group Thousand Kites has been working hard to raise awareness and support for the bill across the state -- join them by signing their petition urging Virginia lawmakers to enact this important reform. And watch video from a recent rally after the jump.
The climate in Virginia should be right to make this small policy shift. Politicians from across the political spectrum are embracing sentencing and prison reform as evidence builds that long sentences don't deter crime -- and that a prison system without true rehabilitation and education opportunities can actually fuel crime. Bringing parole back to Virginia makes good sense for taxpayers and good sense for communities across the state.
Learn more about the Community Restoration Campaign here and watch the video below of a recent rally for reform.

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