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Youngkin could delay early release of some prisoners

Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) and then-Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) leave the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Brunswick County during 2020.
Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) and then-Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) leave the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Brunswick County during 2020. Scott introduced the bill to expand the earned sentence credit program in 2020, and said, as of Friday, he was not privy to discussions about the Gov. Glenn Youngkin scaling back the program. (Photo: Del. Don Scott/Twitter)

The Virginia Department of Corrections is preparing to send thousands of people home from prison early this summer on good behavior. But Gov. Glenn Youngkin could thwart some of those releases. 

More than 3,200 people in Virginia prisons are scheduled to go home early because of a new law that expands the state’s earned sentence credit program. The law, which takes effect July 1, allows people to reduce their sentences up to 15 days for every 30 days they’re confined, if they exhibit good behavior and participate in rehabilitation programs.The law excludes people who are incarcerated for some violent crimes, including voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery.

Republicans who opposed the expansion, have asked Youngkin to postpone some of those releases through a budget amendment. Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) introduced legislation this year to repeal the law, which Governor Ralph Northam signed in 2020. 

A slide from a Virginia Department of Corrections presentation shows a breakdown of the individuals who are expected to be released through a 2020 bill taking effect in July, barring budget amendments by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
A slide from a Virginia Department of Corrections presentation shows a breakdown of the individuals who are expected to be released through a 2020 bill taking effect in July, barring budget amendments by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. (Photo: Virginia Department of Corrections)

Brad Haywood, executive director of Justice Forward Virginia, said the people who are scheduled to be released early were already expected to be freed soon regardless of the change in earned sentence credits. 

“If you’re trying to sell me on them being incredibly dangerous now, what’s going to be different in five months or 12 months?” Haywood told VPM News. “Is their position that no one should ever get out of prison? It’s silly.” The DOC has already begun the process of preparing eligible prisoners for release and creating plans for their continued supervision outside of prison. 

“They claim that these people are safe to release and that these people have done everything they ask, that they are model prisoners,” said House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth). 

Scott introduced the bill to expand the earned sentence credit program in 2020, and said, as of Friday, he was not privy to discussions about the governor scaling back the program. 

VPM spoke to state lawmakers close to the issue about the plan. However, the details of the amendment were not made available as of Friday. 

According to a report the DOC presented to the Senate Finance Committee last month, 90% of those being released under the new earned sentence credit framework are male, 52% are Black, and on average are 40 years old. Twenty-eight percent have some mental impairment and 62% are serving prison time for violent offenses. 

The governor has until late next week to submit amendments to the state budget. 

According to a March DOC report, there are 23,730 people incarcerated in Virginia’s 26 prisons. The state has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation at 23.9%.