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Roanoke senator refiles legislation for Virginia Parole Board Transparency

Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 7:23 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia’s Parole Board has faced scrutiny this year from the way it conducts itself to the people it’s granted parole to. That includes a man who killed a Richmond police officer in 1979, and Gregory Joyner, a Lynchburg teen jailed in 1989 for strangling Sarah Jamison to death - who is expected to be released this month.

Legislators tried to address this in the special session and were largely unsuccessful. But some, including a local senator, are trying again.

“We deserve to know why they’re making their decisions and who is making the decision,” said Bethany Harrison Tuesday.

The Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney spoke out Tuesday about the decision and called for transparency, which is what Republican Senator David Sutterlein said he’s trying to provide.

“It’s the equivalent of having a report card that had a name at the top and teacher signature at the bottom and nothing in between,” Sutterlein said Wednesday.

Sutterlein (R-Roanoke County) and other legislators await the new Inspector General reports, which say more complaints about the board are substantiated but have not been made public. He also said the previous Inspector General’s report, which was initially redacted but then released by Republican leadership in the General Assembly, found the board had not been taking minutes of its votes for years.

He pushed forth a bill in the 2020 special session which would require the votes of each parole board member to be public.

“Every other board commission in Virginia I’m aware of, our votes are public,” he said, “and so this legislation that I’m carrying would require those votes become public just like every other board and commission.”

Sutterlein’s bill passed the Senate but failed to make headway in the House, he said, because House committees didn’t consider it.

He’s refiled Senate Bill 1103 for the 2021 session.

“I think that having the sunshine and transparency of the accountability will make things better,” he said. “I think that’s the way that we do it with everything else from city council to the General Assembly to Congress.”

Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham County) is also refiling legislation. It’s SB 1104, a bill that would require the board to get the input of victims and prosecutors when making its parole decisions. While that’s supposed to be the practice of the board, Sutterlein said he believes the teeth behind their bill will increase transparency.

WDBJ7 reached out to Virginia Parole Board Chair and member Sherman Lea, who is Roanoke City’s mayor. Both declined to comment.

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