Although parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, approximately one-fifth of the state’s prisoners were incarcerated before then, are exempt from the law, and can potentially be paroled. But each year, only six-percent of those who are eligible are granted parole, giving the state one of the lowest approval ratings nationwide.
Delegate Patrick Hope sponsored legislation during the General Assembly session that requires the Parole Board’s guidance documents to be available as public records under the Freedom of Information Act. It was tabled and referred to the Advisory Council, and now a subcommittee will study the bill’s feasibility.
“And so what we want to do is try to determine what exactly goes into their thought making process, what’s in their policies and their guidelines. Right now we get very little information, nothing is disclosed other than a denial based on the serious nature of their crime–nothing more than that, and we’d like to learn a little bit more,” said Hope.
One concern about making the Parole Board’s actions public is that very personal information about the inmates while they’ve been incarcerated could be revealed, so one Council goal will be to exclude that information without violating the FOIA law. Some prisoner advocates argue that the state spends millions of dollars unnecessarily by keeping parole-qualified inmates behind bars—while others have even called for replacing all Parole Board members.