Since 1995, a year after the Virginia Assembly passed legislation to abolish parole, Virginia has built thirteen new prisons and many new jails even as the crime rate has declined. The money spent building new prisons to house those serving long sentences could be better used in three ways: to fund rehabilitative programs for inmates in the prisons, to fund re-entry programs for those leaving prison, and to fund education in Virginia to prevent children from going to prison.
The fact that the state of Virginia only spends approximately $10,597 a year per student in public schools, and $25,129 per year per inmate in prison, demonstrates that state officials entrusted with the duty and responsibility of fulfilling their accountability to the public have neglected the serious needs of the commonwealth.
Prior to the abolishment of parole in 1995, there were roughly 18,000 prisoners in the state of Virginia. Out of those 18,000 there are approximately 4,000 still in the Department of Corrections under the “old parole” law. The crime rate in Virginia has been on the decline since before parole was abolished. Even after parole was abolished the crime rate has declined, but the Virginia prison population has grown. As of January 2014 there were approximately 37,193 prisoners. As of 2009 the percentage of prisoners incarcerated in the state of Virginia for robbery was 15.8%; larceny fraud 14%; assault 11%; rape/sexual assault 10.4%; burglary/breaking and entering 8.1%; drug sales 7/9%; drug possession 7.4%; homicide (first degree) 7.1%; abduction 6.8%; weapons possession 2.2%; homicide (second degree) 2%; DUI 1.3%; capital murder 1.2%; manslaughter 1.2%; habitual offender 11%; other nonviolent 1%; sex offense 0.6%; and arson 0.5%.
Under half of the prison population would be now qualified as violent offenders. Those offenders with drug related offenses and DUI’s need to be in rehabilitation centers that would cost approximately $8,000 a year instead of them being incarcerated at a cost of $25,129 per year. Habitual offenders for driving without a license need to be enrolled in driving classes to help them move towards obtaining their licenses. This would save taxpayers approximately $20,000 a year. Those who commit crimes such as robbery, larceny fraud, burglary/breaking and entering, and drug sales need to be properly trained academically and vocationally to better prepare them for employment. Those who have been convicted of sex crimes need necessary treatment while incarcerated—something the Virginia Department of Corrections does not offer at this time.
In 2007, the Virginia Department of Corrections spent $956,957,693; in 2009 it spent $1,049,492,091; in 2010 it spent 980,674,412; and it will spend more than $1 billion again on prisons by 2015. The money spent on building new prisons and spent on housing prisoners serving longer sentences could be better used and distributed to fund higher teacher salaries, school maintenance, updating school books and computers, and overall education in Virginia to prevent children, teens, and adults from ending up in prison.
The fact that the state of Virginia only spends approximately $10,597 a year per student in public schools demonstrates that state officials entrusted with the duty and responsibility of fulfilling their accountability to the public have neglected the serious needs of the commonwealth.
Education is the key to crime prevention, ending mass incarceration, and solving our economic problems. To neglect education funding and continue to funnel money into the mass incarceration of people in order to profit monopoly businesses is not only unethical, it is fraudulent, hypocritical, and downright shameful.
This petition seeks to restore parole, making it retroactive to all prisoners under the “no parole” law, and creating one law that prisoners serve their sentences under. Having one law will also save taxpayers money. This money can be used to provide better educational classes that would promote global awareness, anti-sexist attitudes, prevention of rape and domestic abuse, human dignity, self-respect, and classes that would in general instill prisoners with values that uphold social justice.
As concerned tax-paying citizens, we strongly urge you to restore parole and take immediate action by providing education and rehabilitation programs for prisoners, and by giving them second chances, while providing better teacher salaries and educational funding to the public schools to prevent children from ending up in prison.
We are all human beings and we all make mistakes. Requiring convicted felons to serve at least 85% of their sentence is inhumane; so is allowing the school system to act as little more than pipelines to prisons. Both are costly financially and fundamentally to society as a whole.
Because of the circumstance outlined in this petition, we, the undersigned taxpayers, registered voters, and citizens, believe the rights of both prisoners and public school students have been violated, and that fairness, equality, and justice is not being served in this state. We hope serious consideration will be given to our petition and we call for fair and consistent change.