RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia legislature is introducing a bill that could give prisoners an opportunity to get out earlier.
It’s called the Second Look Law. It would give inmates who have served at least 15 years of their sentence the opportunity to ask a judge to consider early release based on good behavior and the ability to contribute positively to the community.
According to The Sentencing Project, half of the states in the country have considered second-look laws. These laws often enjoy bipartisan support, including in Virginia.
Republican Senator Chap Petersen said the law allows prisoners to return to a trial judge and have their sentences overturned.
“The trial judge would have 100% discretion,” explained Petersen. “The Commonwealth Counsel would be involved, the victim would be involved, but effectively it’s a look at these 1,300 prisoners who are long-term prisoners.”
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Petersen is leading the impeachment in the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday afternoon. Republican Rep. Carrie Coyner supports the bill in the House. The ACLU of Virginia reports that the bill garnered 20% Republican support in the House of Representatives last year after it passed the Senate.
MANASSAS, VIRGINIA – FEBRUARY 23: Deron McDonald, 54th left, in a class on chronic disease self-management on Thursday, February 23, 2017 at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center in Manassas, Virginia. The men are among several older inmates with chronic illnesses
Shawn Weneta works for ACLU Virginia. He served 16 years in prison for embezzlement before former Gov. Ralph Northam pardoned his sentence in 2020. Weneta supports the bill because he says it is more restrictive than governor’s pardons and more transparent to the public than parole board decisions. It also gives crime victims the opportunity to stay involved.
“There are many victims who support this law,” Weneta said. “Right now, what someone who is incarcerated is doing or has done, they have no right to know at all. In that process, they could actually see, ‘oh, this person actually did these types of things while incarcerated.'”
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However, not every legislator is on board. The House Judicial Committee, which would have to approve the bill to have a say, is chaired by Republican Delegate Rob Bell. He says the bill would eliminate truth at sentencing, allow for retrospective resentencing, and most importantly, it would deter the victim from knowing when the defendant will be sentenced and how long the defendant will actually serve.
Senator Petersen said he spoke to Gov. Glenn Youngkin about the bill and that the governor is neutral on the idea for now.