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Budget amendment rolls back Earned Service Credits program days before some were set for release

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 4:35 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - One of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s budget amendments will roll back a plan that would have let thousands of incarcerated people out of prison early.

The Earned Service Credit program would have allowed people convicted of violent crimes to earn time off their sentences for participating in counseling and rehabilitation, as well as good behavior. Now, hundreds of people anticipating leaving prison in just weeks might have to wait years.

“This really impacts lots and lots of families. Lots of people had made plans, the Department of Corrections had already told people that they’re going home,” Shawn Weneta with ACLU of Virginia said.

The program has been in place since 1995, and would have only deducted time from a group of about 3,000 people incarcerated for both violent and nonviolent crimes. Only time from their nonviolent sentences would have been reduced, they would have served their full sentence for violent crimes.

Some have been earning credits for years.

“Unfortunately, that carpet is being yanked out from underneath people only 10 days ahead of when they were expecting to go home,” Weneta said.

The ACLU of Virginia fought about the governor’s amendment. It says with this passage, an important incentive for rehabilitation is gone.

“These people are not going to be taking these programs and they’re not going to be enacting the change that we want to see from them when they are getting out in a few months or maybe a year or two. That’s what this budget amendment did. This budget amendment made the prisons more dangerous, and it is compromising public safety in the long run,” Weneta said.

The ACLU says less than 2% of people eligible under this program are serving time for homicide or sex crimes.

In a statement, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said: “I was pleased that the General Assembly passed Governor Youngkin’s budget amendment to limit the use of enhanced earned sentence credits in some circumstances. This amendment prioritizes public safety and prevents the most violent offenders from being released early from prison.”

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