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Lawmakers Reject Compassionate Release Bill

Johnay Hardy

Democrats are cheering many of the reforms approved by the legislature this year, but as the clock ticks down on the current session some are bitterly disappointed by a decision to delay one measure.

Governor Northam proposed Senate Bill 493 – a measure that would allow the parole board to release prisoners who are terminally ill or disabled and pose no threat to public safety.  The Senate agreed, and inmates like Andre Daniels were encouraged.  He’s undergone several rounds of chemotherapy for blood cancer.

“The nausea was terrible.  I couldn’t keep anything down," he recalls. "The cancer went into remission.  Unfortunately it came right out of remission within a few months.”

And now it looks like the 32-year-old, who’s already served 11 years for carjacking, might lose his life.

“A mass is growing in my lower right side, and my doctors are concerned what that may be,” he explains.

They recommended a stem cell transplant, but the Department of Corrections can’t accommodate that procedure, so Daniels asked the governor for a pardon. After waiting two and a half years he was told the parole board recommended against it.

“I’m just going to be blunt here," he says. "The parole board did not deem my life worthy enough to recommend my release.”

Senate Bill 493 brought new hope for Daniels and his family, but when that bill went to the House Courts of Justice Committee, two Democrats – Charniele Herring and Mike Mullen – joined Republicans in calling for more study.  Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety, Brian Moran, was surprised.

“Typically I’m supportive of studies," he says. "In a legislature that deals with so many issues in 60 days, studying something isn’t a bad thing, but we thought that this one had been adequately studied.”

The Department of Corrections doesn’t release inmates unless they have a place to go and sufficient social support.  Daniels, for example, would be covered by Medicaid with 90% of funding for that program coming from the federal government.  His fiancée says she’ll take care of him, and Daniels  has apologized to his victims and admitted he did wrong. The bill’s sponsor, John Bell, said he was very disappointed and confused. "This bill was backed up by several studies and the Administration," he wrote. "Leaving terminally ill prisoners in jail to die hurts my head and my heart." 

The measure would also have saved taxpayers $27 million per year. 

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief