Democrats kill legislation to tighten prison sentences


(The Center Square) — Democrats in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee used their majority to shut down a bill from Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, attempting to amend legislation passed in 2020 that “enhanced” Virginia’s earned sentence credit system.

The system allows convicted criminals serving time to earn their way to shorter sentences with good behavior.

The 2020 law increased the number of days inmates could earn off their sentence up to 15 days per 30 of good behavior, but precluded from the “enhanced” program those convicted of a class 1 felony and other enumerated offenses. They can only earn, at most, 4.5 days per 30 days served.

Peake’s bill aimed to limit the credits of those convicted of attempted crimes in the excluded class.

“The reasoning for us to bring this bill is, just because you shot an officer and didn’t kill him, you should not be entitled to this extra earned sentence credit. If you attempted to carjack someone but were not able to complete it, you should not get these [extra] earned sentence credits. If you attempted a violent robbery, you should not get these credits,” Peake said.

SB 476 also addressed how earned sentence credits apply to those serving dual sentences for violent and non-violent crimes, a contentious issue in the Assembly.

Peake presented the bill as a “cleanup” of the existing legislation, patronized by Speaker of the House Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, closing mistakenly overlooked loopholes.

“I think this is entirely consistent with what the purpose of the bill was in 2020…. To remain consistent with what the Speaker had in his bill, we need to pass this bill,” Peake said.

Peake also referenced a case in which the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in favor of a man convicted of aggravated attempted murder, granting him credits he claimed he had wrongfully been denied.

“You can shoot at [a police officer], miss him and you’re gonna get the earned sentence credits as though you had never attempted to murder a police officer. Do you support our police officers or not is kind of the basis of this bill,” Peake said.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, challenged Peake’s presentation of the bill.

“Senator Peake, I’m sure you’re aware that this was legislation that was drafted by and, I would say, aggressively pressed by the Speaker. Have you talked to him about whether he thinks this is a good idea?” Surovell said.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, suggested delaying the bill due to another ongoing Supreme Court case that could affect the existing law, but Sen. Angela Williams-Graves, D-Norfolk, later made a motion to pass the bill indefinitely.

Ultimately, Democrats sided with Surovell, who added that Peake’s bill represented an additional cost to taxpayers, while several Virginia prisons have been shut down in part because of the policies in the existing law, according to Surovell.

The committee voted along party lines to kill the bill 9-6.

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