RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia prison officials have agreed to give more inmates enhanced earned sentence credits for good behavior to allow for earlier releases from prison.
The Washington Post reports that the change comes after the ACLU of Virginia sued the governor, attorney general and state corrections officials on behalf of a handful of inmates, claiming its clients and thousands of other inmates were denied enhanced credits called for in a 2020 law. The inmates said they were held in prison months or years past when their sentences should have ended.
Virginia Department of Corrections officials did not respond to questions about how many inmates may be affected by the change, but the ACLU of Virginia estimated that it could affect "potentially hundreds."
FAIRFAX, VA - SEPTEMBER 18: Student/detainees, right, are issued clothes but allowed to have their own shoes at the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center School on Tuesday, September 18, 2012, in Fairfax, VA. The school, which is funded by state o
The change was revealed in a court filing in which the Department of Corrections said it had released one of the ACLU’s clients earlier this month. The VDOC said it was now awarding the enhanced credits to that inmate and others who had been convicted of attempting to commit aggravated murder, robbery or carjacking, or solicitation or conspiracy to commit those crimes.
The VDOC wrote in its filing that it was making the change following a Supreme Court of Virginia ruling this summer in favor of another one of the ACLU’s clients who was convicted of attempted aggravated murder. The court ordered the VDOC to release that inmate, agreeing that he should have been given the enhanced credits.
"This change represents a very belated recognition by VDOC that there are many people who never should have been excluded from expanded earned sentence credits, even under VDOC’s own faulty reasoning," Vishal Agraharkar, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Virginia, wrote in an email.
Last year, Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares found that inmates convicted of attempted offenses should not receive the enhanced credits. The move came just weeks before hundreds of inmates were expecting to be released.
Separately, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued a budget amendment to curtail the number of inmates who could take advantage of the benefit.
Youngkin and Miyares said that releasing the inmates early could lead to a spike in crime and that some inmates convicted of violent crimes should not get the credit.
Advocates for criminal justice reform and lawmakers who passed the 2020 law said it incentivizes inmates to pursue new skills, drug counseling and other forms of rehabilitation. The law increased the maximum number of days an inmate could earn off their sentence, from 4½ days a month to 15 days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.