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GOP lawmakers consider controversial budget amendment

Brad Haywood
Brad Haywood
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Brad Haywood is the chief public defender for Arlington County and Falls Church. He's also the founder and executive director of Justice Forward Virginia.

Two years ago, when Democrats controlled the state house, senate and governor’s mansion, they passed a law making it easier for inmates to win early release through good behavior in prison. Now, the chief public defender in Arlington – Brad Haywood – says some state legislators plan to introduce an amendment to the budget that could come up for a vote as early as June first.  It would make many prisoners ineligible for extra good time credits – including a thousand expecting to be freed this summer.

“They have already received letters from the Department of Corrections telling them, 'You’re getting out,’" Haywood says. "They have told their families about it, and they plan to go home – to hug their loved ones, to re-unite with their kids. A lot of them are looking for jobs. A lot of them plan to go back to school, and now that hope is going to be dashed, and to me that’s just utterly twisted.”

Already, some sentences – handed down for certain crimes – don’t qualify for good-time reductions.

“There’s a whole long list of things that sound very violent that were excluded," Haywood explains.

Like malicious wounding. That would be the charge for breaking someone’s nose in a barroom brawl. It could result in a 20-year prison sentence, and good behavior behind bars would make no difference, but under the proposed change, Haywood says a second non-violent charge like drug possession would also be ineligible for good-time consideration. He and others who oppose the change are hoping to stop it.

“We’re sending e-mails, we’re making calls, we’re requesting meetings – not allowing this to happen in the back room, which is what seems to be happening right now.”

Democrats in the Senate have been defending reforms enacted during Ralph Northam’s term in office, but some of them are now running in new, more conservative political districts and could join with Republicans to limit earned sentence credits.