Tuesday, February 7, 2023

New Report Reviews Virginia Parole Board Duties, Issues

One recommendation made to improve the Virginia Parole Board is to have parole officers take a more active role in discharge procedures. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — The Virginia Parole Board has issued a report that outlines its past problems and the steps it could take to rebuild public trust. The work began in 2021, when Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an Executive Order firing the previous parole board and requesting a review of its duties, procedures and administration.

Chadwick Dotson, Virginia Parole Board chair and report author, said the biggest issue is the parole board’s lack of transparency in decision making — in part because other reports about its investigations had been heavily redacted by the State Inspector General’s Office.

“If we could make the process more public and if we can provide better feedback about each of our decisions — those decisions to not grant or not parole and the decisions to grant parole — people will still disagree, that’s going to happen,” Dotson said. “But if they can see the decisions were made soundly, based on evidence and with full justification, it provides a little bit more comfort that will hopefully help people accept our decisions.”

The report said parole hearings should be open to the public, more staff should be assigned to assist the board in preparing for hearings, and more funding should available to help carry out those hearings.

Dotson noted challenges to implementing these changes, most notably working with a mostly part-time board and staff.

Some recommendations have already been adopted, including revising policy manuals that had not been updated since the 1990s, and improving how parole examiners make recommendations. Dotson said the groundwork has been laid for a better future at the Virginia Parole Board.

“I think we have put together a system that makes sure that everyone has an opportunity for input, and that we’re considering all of the things that need to be considered before making any decision,” he said. “I think we’ve really smoothed out the rough edges of the system as well as we can, with our current board composition.”

He added part of the responsibility for improvement lies with the General Assembly. The report recommended legislation to require that the parole board seek input of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys, and that the governor be required to seek victim input on pardons.

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