When the Virginia Senate convenes next month in Richmond for its 2021 regular session, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) will continue to push legislation that brings greater transparency and accountability to the state parole board.
With 14 days left until the session starts on January 13, Obenshain has already pre-filed two bills this month relating to the parole board.
Senate Bill 1125 requires the parole board to give written or electronic notice to a victim of a crime within seven days of making any decision to release the prisoner who committed the offense.
The other legislation, Senate Bill 1104, calls for the Department of Corrections to release a prisoner no sooner than 21 days after the parole board notifies the appropriate Commonwealth’s Attorney of its decision, either electronically or through certified mail.
Additionally, the bill would require the parole board to release monthly reports on its decisions and include the offenses of prisoners under consideration for release, the locality in which the crime was committed and the amount of time served by the inmate.
Both bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Service where the road to becoming laws will start.
SB 1104 is the same legislation Obenshain had introduced in the 2020 special session, which passed out of the Senate unanimously but was tabled by the House Committee for Courts of Justice by a party-line vote.
The Virginia Star reached out to Obenshain for comment, but did not hear back before press time.
In a press release, Obenshain said the bill stems from the parole board failing to follow requirements of notifying victims and local prosecutors in advance of granting parole to a prisoner.
“Their actions have highlighted the lack of transparency under which the board operates, and this bill seeks to address those transparency concerns,” Obenshain said in the release. “It is past time the Board follows the law and its own policies and provides to victims and their families the respect they deserve.”
A glaring example of this came back in early October when the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) released reports substantiating multiple instances where the parole board violated state statutes and its own policies.
The OSIG substantiated five allegations that the board did not give notifications to Commonwealth’s Attorneys of prisoners’ pending releases within the allotted time frame and seven allegations where they failed to make adequate efforts to contact victims prior to granting parole.
On the same day the reports were released, Obenshain took a point of personal privilege to deliver a passionate speech on the subject to his colleagues in the Senate and called for Governor Ralph Northam to fire and replace every member of the parole board.
Fellow Republican Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County) has also reintroduced legislation for the 2021 session – to make the individual votes of parole board members public record and subject to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – that had originally passed the Senate but was tabled by the same House committee.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Matheus Gonçalves CC BY-SA 2.0.