Parole Board actions are disturbing
By Howard Hall
Recently, we’ve learned of numerous disturbing decisions by the Virginia Parole Board, beginning with granting parole to Vincent Martin, who murdered a Richmond police officer. It’s alleged that this terrible decision was made without input from the victim’s family or the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Subsequently, we learned that criminals convicted of murder in Halifax County, Roanoke, and Amelia County also have been released without required notifications. This is a disturbing trend.
The Office of the State Inspector General has initiated an investigation of the Parole Board. The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police strongly supports this investigation. There are numerous issues that deserve examination, including the processes used during the parole review and whether it’s appropriate for the board chair to conduct her own investigation into Martin’s guilt or for her to publicly criticize the VACP and Richmond police chief. Others include allegations that sex offenders have been scheduled for release without GPS ankle bracelets, that decisions have been based on hearing examiner reports that are insufficient, and that the IG’s Office has interviewed at least one individual who has knowledge of procedural and ethical violations at the Board. If any of these are true, the Board is not only negligent, it’s putting law-abiding citizens at risk. We urge the IG to thoroughly investigate these issues and not be bound by any artificial timeline.
We are grateful that the first steps have been taken to stop these dangerous decisions, but we fear this is part of an effort to release a larger number of criminals into our communities. Recently, the General Assembly passed an emergency bill to allow the immediate release of certain inmates, under the guise of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Seventeen members sent a letter to the Governor urging, among other things, that we “use every tool at our disposal to reduce the inmate population.” There is no mention of why these criminals are in jail. It’s because they were arrested on probable cause, convicted on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and sentenced by a court. It’s because they have victimized our citizens.
What I have described is the goal of the “criminal justice reform” movement. It’s an effort to release criminals to reduce “mass incarceration.” The authors of the aforementioned letter note that more than 57,000 criminals reside in Virginia’s jails and prisons. That is six-tenths of 1 percent of our 8.5 million residents. Since a very small segment of offenders are responsible for most violent crime, this is not surprising. What these activists fail to acknowledge is that, despite its faults, our justice system has been the most effective in the world for more than 200 years.
We have seen this before. During the ’70s and ’80s, consideration for criminals outweighed consideration for victims. Crime was much higher, and citizens demanded action. Elected leaders of both parties passed legislation that increased accountability for offenders and made victims a priority. Criminals went to jail and, especially for violent crimes, stayed. Crime was reduced to historic lows. While we continue to enjoy the results, we are in danger of squandering these accomplishments to appease the ideals of radical activists. How soon we forget.
Reasonable people may disagree about how criminals should be punished. New ideas that show promise for rehabilitation are worth evaluating; however, there are crimes that are so heinous that the perpetrators must never go free. The murder of a police officer is at the top of that list. These criminals will never pay their debt to society and, while prison won’t rehabilitate, it will prevent additional victimization.
The release of convicted criminals places the safety of our citizens in jeopardy. Other states who are following this dangerous path are already suffering. Headlines from New York, California, and others document the crimes committed by those who’ve been released. Do we want this in Virginia? I hope not.
Our officers are committed to ensuring your safety, but we need help. Before the misconduct of the Parole Board gets worse, before our elected leaders continue down the path of placing criminals before law-abiding citizens, and before crime rates rise, we must demand that accountability be restored and that dangerous criminals be kept in prison for the duration of their sentences.
Howard Hall is chief of police in Roanoke County and president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.