Legislature approves authority for Va. DOC to release some offenders early

The state's DOC director will now have the ability to consider early release for offenders with less than one year left to serve

By Sarah Calams

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virigina Department of Corrections was granted authority to release some offenders early during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Virginia General Assembly OK'd the proposed budget amendment April 22, giving the state's DOC director the ability to consider early release for offenders with less than one year left to serve, according to a Virigina DOC press release. Offenders who have been convicted of a Class 1 felony or a sexually violent offense will not be eligible for release.

"The Governor and legislature have enabled us to discharge low-level offenders in a responsible manner," Brian Moran, secretary of public safety and homeland security, said. "These returning citizens will need our support. We thank family members and community organizations for doing all they can to offer services to this population as they are released during the pandemic. This unprecedented crisis calls for a smart, responsible approach which takes into account public safety while ensuring the returning citizens' reentry success."

A COVID-19 diagnosis, according to DOC officials, is not a release factor. Officials will consider an offender's offense type and history, medical condition, documented and approved home plan, good time earning level and recidivism risk. Offenders must have no active detainers.

"Just as our medical professionals have been working around the clock throughout this pandemic, our offender management staff are moving very quickly to identify offenders eligible for early release," Harold Clarke, Department of Corrections director, said. "We are focused on safety – public safety, staff safety and offender safety. We're looking at offender home plans and access to medical care, among many other factors. We must avoid releasing someone from a facility where they have access to 24-hour care into a situation in which they are more susceptible to COVID-19."

Offenders will be released with three months' worth of medication, according to the press release. The state's probation and parole offices have adjusted their intake process to ensure they're ready to receive the additional released offenders.

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