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Virginia legislators, the formerly incarcerated celebrate earned sentence credit releases

Delegate Mike Jones (far left) flanks earned sentence credit released folks who stand behind Senator Jennifer Boysko.
Brad Kutner
/
Radio IQ
Delegate Mike Jones (far left) flanks earned sentence credit released folks who stand behind Senator Jennifer Boysko.

Virginia’s prison population has been shrinking– the result of lower crime rates and criminal justice reforms shepherded by Democratic legislators over the last few years. Republican Glenn Youngkin largely resisted those efforts during his term as governor until the recent budget cycle which saw one major reform finally get the green light.

Earned sentence credits are designed to incentivize good behavior for folks behind bars. You study in an education program, or take job training courses, and time is shaved off your sentence. It’s revolutionary in Virginia, which lacks a formal parole system. And now, after several years of delays, those earned sentence credits are kicking in.

Quadaire Patterson was incarcerated at Lawrenceville Correctional Center and was among those released earlier this month. From a podium at the General Assembly Building Tuesday, he described how attitudes among his fellow inmates changed once they found out about early releases.

“People start talking about their families, reuniting with their kids, making their kids' graduations," Patterson said. "That was done through the hope that earned sentence credits in their enhanced form have provided.”

Attorney General Jason Miyares, a staunch opponent of the earned sentence credit program, took to social media Monday night to condemn the process, calling it a threat to Virginia’s families.

"I believe in redemption and am a strong proponent for helping our returning citizens re-enter society to live productive lives," he said before suggesting data from his office showed an increase in recidivism race among some of those slated for release.

"If you do the crime, you should do the time," he said. "It’s increasingly clear that the enhanced earned sentence credit system poses a serious risk to Virginians."

Advocates argue Miyares is using bad data to predict future crimes. And Senator Jennifer Boysko, one of the patrons of the earned sentence credit bill, said the attorney general was scare mongering during a tense election year.

“The data shows earned sentence credit programs reduce recidivism no matter what he says,” she said.

Under the program over 800 inmates have been released since July 1 with thousands more slated for early release in the future.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.