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Miyares concerned enhanced earned credit system poses ‘public safety risk’

(The Center Square) — Virginia’s Attorney General Jason Miyares is concerned some changes to sentencing reductions in the commonwealth pose a public safety risk, with over 7,000 “violent offenders” now eligible for reduced sentences.

On July 1, incarcerated people who committed both violent and nonviolent crimes became eligible for greater reductions of their sentences for nonviolent crimes after a provision the Youngkin administration inserted into the previous biennial budget expired. Now they’re eligible for “enhanced” earned sentence credits, meaning they can earn up to 15 days off their sentence for a nonviolent crime for every 30 days of good behavior, whereas the sentences for violent crimes can only be reduced by a maximum of 4.5 days for similar good behavior.

That’s how the law was written in 2020, but Gov. Glenn Youngkin had tried to keep it so that people who had committed mixed crimes couldn’t serve shorter sentences for their nonviolent crimes committed “in the same act or transaction,” according to Miyares.

Miyares is calling the expiration of the governor’s budget amendment a “critical public safety issue,” as more than 7,600 offenders now qualify for sentence reductions, “approximately 99%” of whom are violent offenders, according to the attorney general’s office.

As the 2020 law instituting enhanced earned sentence credits applies retroactively back to 1995, hundreds of incarcerated persons were released the day the governor’s provision expired.

“On July 1, 2024, 445 inmates became eligible for immediate release, including: 16 convicted of first-degree murder, 22 convicted of rape or sexual assault, 46 convicted of abduction, and 244 convicted of robbery,” according to a press release from Miyares’ office.

“It’s well known that a mere 2-5% of offenders are responsible for over 50% of all crime. Expanding earned sentence credits to inmates convicted of both violent and nonviolent offenses in the same act or transaction will likely benefit these repeat, violent offenders,” said Miyares. “Virginians should not have to wait for a tragedy to prompt their elected officials to prioritize their safety. Good intentions do not equal good results.”

The enhanced system became statute under a Democratic trifecta in an effort to rehabilitate more of Virginia’s incarcerated people. The Virginia Department of Corrections closed four prisons on July 1.

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