An amendment added to the state budget in last summer by Gov. Glenn Youngkin had a drastic effect on the lives of a number of incarcerated people and their families. It involves an enhanced earned sentence credit program outlined in a 2020 law.
The amendment took effect just before the first group of people who had been earning these additional credits were scheduled to be released. The 2020 law allowed those serving sentences for solely nonviolent offenses as well as for a combination of nonviolent and violent offenses to earn additional time toward their release by participating in various rehabilitative programs involving things like job training and mental health treatment.
Governor says amendment was to “correct an error”
The change made by Gov. Youngkin and approved by the state legislature removes this avenue for early release for those with “mixed” sentences for non-violent and violent crimes. The governor says he was simply fixing a mistake. He said, “Everyone knows the original bill was not meant to accelerate the release of folks who had committed violent crimes. So the bill had an error in the way it was written, versus what was intended, and what my amendment did was correct the error.”
The change doesn’t affect the changes to the credit system itself detailed in the original law, but it affects who can benefit from them. It allows those serving sentences only for non-violent crimes to earn as much as 15 days off their sentence for every 30 days they’ve already served. However, those who were convicted of a violent offense along with a non-violent one can still earn only 4.5 days off for every 30 days served.
Virginia ACLU is challenging the change to the law
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia has been challenging the changes made in the amendment, saying that inmates legitimately earned credits under the law but were unable to use them. It said, “The budget amendment should never have been applied retroactively to revoke sentence credits already earned.”
The ACLU has so far been unsuccessful in challenging the change to the law. The group is planning to take the matter up to the Virginia Supreme Court. If you have questions or concerns about a loved one’s earned sentence credits and the status of the law, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.