Since Virginia abolished parole in 1995 there’s been just one way for most inmates to win an early release from state prisons – asking for a pardon from the governor. As a result, Ralph Northam’s team may be overwhelmed by a backlog of cases and some pleas have languished for years.
Andre Daniels was convicted of a robbery when he was 18 – sentenced to 20 years behind bars. Now in his early 30’s he’s been diagnosed with cancer. Chemotherapy slowed the disease, but his lawyer Lloyd Snook says it didn’t kill a life-threatening tumor.
“The only thing that will kill off the tumor is a stem-cell transplant. They won’t pay for that, and so the only way he can get the life-saving treatment is to get out of prison. The only way he can get out of prison is on a pardon,” he explains.
So Daniels appealed to the governor, asking for clemency.
“And we’ve been trying ever since frankly more than anything else just to get the attention of a human being," Snook says. "This started during the last days of the McAuliffe administration and I really thought that once Governor Northam, being a doctor, took over, there might somehow be a little greater sensitivity there, but I don’t know that we’ve ever had any assurance that anybody has looked at this case.”
Virginia does offer compassionate release for those with fatal conditions.
“Which is only available if you’re three months from dying," Snook adds. "He doesn’t want to be three months from dying!”
Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett says Virginia is among the least compassionate states when it comes to people who are dying, but Brian Moran – the governor’s chief advisor on criminal justice -- says lawmakers are unwilling to change that.
“What we have attempted to do was to at least impose some discretion into the parole laws," Moran says. "For example, medical parole for those who are terminally ill. Governor Northam supported that this year, and it failed.”
People with serious disabilities are also left waiting. Take the 41-year-old inmate who suffers from a rare neurological disease that makes it hard to walk or talk. We spoke with his mother, Julie Lloyd, after a public forum on parole in Norfolk.
“My son’s name is Alfonso Skyles -- 1134129. He’s at Greensville Correctional Center," she said, holding back tears. "He’s been there now for over 21 years. He’s completed different trainings, anger management. Right after the clemency went in he got married. His wife is a homeowner. She’s a full-time nurse. We have a heating and air conditioning business, so he has somewhere to go. He has something to do. He is reformed.”
Lloyd says her son’s medical care has cost Virginia more than half a million dollars. Future bills could be paid by Medicaid if he were released, but Skyles has been waiting a year and a half for an answer to his petition for clemency.
Greg Wilson has waited even longer – prompting his wife, Rena, to attend the community forum with Bennett and Moran.
“In July it will have been five years since we put the pardon request in, and I know of someone else – their petition has been in for seven or eight years, and I’m just wondering – what’s the timeline on this?” she asked.
Bennett said she could not provide a timeline, but doubted the case had been under consideration for five years. Rena Wilson has since shared e-mails with RadioIQ showing that it has indeed been five years since her husband asked for a pardon.
The Parole Summit at ODU was organized by Kari Anderson of Restore Justice in Va and Angela Antoine of House of Dreams Outreach and Re-entry, LLC -- coordinated with the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and the Nu Theta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. Communities wishing to host similar events should contact Brian Moran's administrative assistance: Danielle.Crowley@governor.virginia.gov .