RICHMOND, Va. — A former chair of the Virginia Parole Board violated state policy and the law in handling cases early in the coronavirus pandemic and could have been prosecuted for falsifying documents were it not for the statute of limitations, the attorney general , would have been said Wednesday.
Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares set out his allegations against Adrianne Bennett when he outlined the findings of his office’s year-long investigation into board practices, which specifically focused on its activities in March and April 2020.
“What happened here was a clear abuse of power. What happened here was the epitome of putting criminals first and victims last,” Miyares said.
An attorney for Bennett, who resigned from the role in 2020 and is now a Virginia Beach judge, declined to comment.
The long-running controversy surrounding the panel — whose composition has since been completely reshuffled — began with complaints from prosecutors and victims’ families about how parole decisions and notifications were handled at the start of the coronavirus pandemic during the tenure of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. The matter escalated into a bitter dispute, which so far has mostly split along partisan lines.
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin vowed to reform the board and sanctioned the Miyares investigation as one of his first acts after being sworn in.
In a 69-page report, Miyares’ office said the parole board granted release to an above-average number of inmates in March and April 2020. According to the report, the board has violated the requirement that it “make diligent efforts” to contact victims before making discretionary probation decisions 83 times, according to the report.
The board also failed 66 times to require the board to notify local prosecutors of its release decisions within at least 21 days of release, the report said.
These results are consistent with reporting by The Associated Press and other news outlets at the time. Family members of victims reported being amazed and shocked after learning about probation money.
Bennett “unilaterally released 137 violent offenders from probation in her final days on the board — most of whom were convicted of capital offenses or first-degree murder,” the report said.
In doing so, “President Bennett falsified three entries in her list of released offenders, claiming that a parole officer or probation officer ‘requested’ the release of the offender,” the report reads.
There is also probable reason to believe that Bennett violated eight court orders that determined two inmates were ineligible for voluntary parole, the report said. These offenses could not be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations, it said.
Bennett has declined previous AP requests for comment. Miyares said she agreed to an interview for the report but declined to answer questions about some matters. Miyares also claimed that her parole board emails “were all deleted.”
Miyares said the General Assembly should decide whether to initiate impeachment proceedings against Bennett.
Speakers for the leadership of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and Democrat-led Senate said their members did not begin reviewing the report until Wednesday afternoon.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment called on Bennett to resign “immediately to avoid legislative action.”
Since the Virginia legislature abolished discretionary parole in the 1990s, only a very limited number of inmates are eligible for consideration by the five-member board. Most either committed their offenses earlier or are over the age of 60 and meet certain conditions that make them eligible for geriatric discharge.