What does "prison life" really mean in Virginia? | Lei Tingen, PLLC (2023)

in Virginia,Class 1 and 2 crimescarry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. However, this punishment is not as easy as it seems.

While crimes committed after January 1, 1995 carry a "true" life sentence, inmates held before that limit may be eligible for parole under earlier law.

In this article we will talk about how this process works and what factors can complicate it. We also address the specific situations in which life inmates may apply for parole.

What charges carry a life sentence in Virginia?

What does "prison life" really mean in Virginia? | Lei Tingen, PLLC (1)

There are several criminal charges that can lead to life imprisonment in Virginia.

First, Virginia courts can punish any Class 1 or Class 2 crime with life imprisonment. These typically include violent crimes such as murder, rape, or malicious assault.

Second, Virginia courts also typically punish violent crimes involving firearms with life imprisonment.

Finally, a criminal who has already been convicted can be sentenced to life imprisonment for particularly serious allegations related to drug trafficking.

Since 1995, Virginia courts have generally sentenced these individuals to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

WhileIn 2015, a commission was set up to investigate the parole, their results generally supported this policy change.

Because of this, Virginia has since sentenced people to life in prison without parole. However, the original laws continue to apply to prisoners serving life sentences for crimes committed before 1995.

With these people eligible for parole after 15 to 30 years in prison, most can now apply for re-entry into society.

What is probation?

What does "prison life" really mean in Virginia? | Lei Tingen, PLLC (2)

At the most basic level, parole is a program that allows inmates to serve the remainder of their sentences outside of prison.

They can do this as long as they follow certain guidelines, e.g. For example, reporting to a parole officer or showing good behavior.

In Virginia, most inmates are eligible for parole after serving a significant portion of their total sentence. However, this is not an automatic process.

Instead, inmates seeking parole must report to Virginia's notorious severity.parole board.

At least three of the five board members must agree to the release from prison. Also, in Virginia, there are actually two different types of probation: discretionary and mandatory.

When it comes to probation, that's what most people think ofdiscretionary type.

Here, an inmate is released early from custody and serves the remainder of his sentence under the supervision of a parole officer.

On the other hand,mandatory probationary periodit is essentially an additional sentence added to the end of a normal prison sentence.

Mandatory probation is often used to keep track of former inmates after their release.

For example, a drug offender may be serving a one-year sentence and then must appear before a probation officer for a few months to prove he remains drug-free.

In any case, when the board awards parole to an inmate, that inmate must comply with certain rules or risk additional penalties.

These rules can vary, but generally include frequent reports to a probation officer, drug testing, and sometimes even counseling sessions.

The parole board may also impose other restrictions, e.g. B. Forbid a detainee to travel out of state.

Virginia discretionary parole

As mentioned earlier in this article, Virginiaabolished the normal form of discretionary exemptionin 1995. Instead, inmates are now required to serve a certain amount of their sentence before being eligible for parole.

On average, an inmate must serve at least 85% of their original sentence before they can apply for parole.

However, as a result of these changes, prisoners serving life sentences no longer have the option of parole.

This is how life sentences really became life sentences. Only inmates who were committed before the 1995 cutoff can still apply for a discretionary exemption.

Discretionary parole for life sentences in Virginia

As noted, the rules change slightly for inmates serving a life sentence. In particular, there are some specific limitations on life sentences for crimes committed before the 1995 deadline.

The three most important are the following:

  • An inmate convicted of a Class 2 felony must serve at least 15 years of his sentence before he can be paroled.
  • If the conviction was for a Class 1 felony, theFirst degree murder of a child under 8 years old, Öother exception listedInstead, they must turn 25 before they can apply for parole.
  • If an inmate is serving two or more life sentences concurrently, they may be paroled after 20 years of incarceration, or after 30 years if either sentence is a Class 1 felony.

As an additional note, if a person receives a life sentence after being suspended for a previous life sentence, they are not eligible for parole.

In addition, any person convicted of three or more felonies is also ineligible for parole.

Even if an inmate serves the times listed above, there is no guarantee that the parole board will grant parole.

In fact, the parole board has only had a success rate in recent yearson average between 3% and 7%.

Remember that parole is granted at the sole discretion of the parole board, so the applicant must demonstrate that their release does not prove adanger to the community.

Also keep in mind that these numbers only apply to crimes committed before 1995.

Any life sentence passed after the 1995 deadline is considered a real life sentence.

How does the Virginia Board of Parole decide who gets parole?

The Virginia Board of Parole is considering amultitude of factorsin deciding who gets parole.

Generally they focus on disqualifying factors or reasons why an inmateshould notto be published

To provide an example of some of the requirements they look for, here are some of the most common reasons an inmate might be denied parole:

  • The board almost always denies parole to inmates who exhibit violent or non-compliant behavior in prison.
  • The board will likely deny parole to inmates with a history of drug abuse in prison.
  • In addition to the inmate's behavior in prison, the committee will consider the seriousness of the original crime, as well as testimonies from people close to them, such as victims or their families.
  • The board can also deny parole if an inmate does not participate in educational or employment programs.

However, outside of these disqualifying grounds, the parole board may deny parole for any reason.

They generally base this decision on whether they believe the inmate still poses a danger to the community.

What is geriatric parole?

What does "prison life" really mean in Virginia? | Lei Tingen, PLLC (3)

As a side note to what we discussed above, the Code of Virginia contains provisions for theProbation of geriatric prisoners.

This option is sometimes referred to as “geriatric probation” and is only available to inmates over the age of 60. This works similar to applying for regular parole.

However, the board takes into account the age and any health problems as well as the prison record of the inmate.

This tends to make geriatric probation a better option for those inmates who qualify. As with regular parole, the approval rating for geriatric parole is incredibly low.

In fact, the geriatric parole ratean average of only 4.7%.


What does "prison life" really mean in Virginia? | Lei Tingen, PLLC (4)

For most Virginia inmates, “life in prison” really means life imprisonment.

However, for prisoners serving sentences for crimes committed before January 1, 1995, the future is less certain.

In fact, many of these individuals are approaching parole because they have completed the required 15 to 30 year waiting period, or as a result of geriatric parole.

While the fairness of the life sentence has been questioned several times in recent years, the policy has remained largely unchanged since the 1990s.

Because of this, “prison life” will continue for the foreseeable future, leading to life imprisonment for the majority of Virginia inmates.


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