- Report Published -
|Senate Document No. 13|
PUBLICATION YEAR 2008
|Joint Subcommittee Studying Prisoner Reentry to Society|
SJR 327 (2007) and HJR 652 (2007)
|Division of Legislative Services, Joint Subcommittee|
|SJR 327 (Regular Session, 2007)|
|Senate Joint Resolution 327 (2007) and House Joint Resolution 652 (2007) continued the Joint Subcommittee to Study the Commonwealth's Program for Prisoner Reentry to Society during the 2007 interim. These resolutions directed the joint subcommittee to: (i) process its proposals for discussion developed during the 2006 interim to offer appropriate recommendations therefrom; (ii) monitor the work of the Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy and its pilot programs; (iii) receive the report and recommendations of the Academy regarding the results of the pilot programs; and (iv) synthesize the joint subcommittee's proposals and the Academy's recommendations and recommend such feasible and appropriate alternatives that may reasonably facilitate the successful reintegration of prisoners in their communities. In addition, the joint subcommittee was directed to (i) evaluate the existing education program for prisoners in Virginia, including the advantages and benefits of the program for prisoners, their families, and the community, and its effect on recidivism; (ii) identify program needs, including ways to accommodate more inmates, and recommend solutions; (iii) review prisoner education programs in other states; (iv) consider financial aid alternatives to assist inmates in accessing college, and ways to fund college education programs for prisoners in the Commonwealth; (v) examine the relationship between poor educational opportunities, delinquency, unidentified learning disabilities, and crime; and (vi) determine the number of inmates with learning disabilities, and the average reading level of inmates in state and local adult and juvenile correctional institutions. |
During the 2007 interim, the joint subcommittee met five times to carry out its work.
At the first meeting of the 2007 interim, the joint subcommittee heard an overview of prisoner education programs in other states, and received a presentation on educational programs for inmates in Virginia. At this meeting, the joint subcommittee also heard a presentation on the growing prison crisis and the need for prisoner reentry planning, and information regarding the newly developed Richmond-based nonprofit organization, Drive to Work, which utilizes volunteer attorneys to assist low income, previously incarcerated persons with the process of restoring their driving privileges so that they can drive to work and hold a job. At the end of the meeting, the joint subcommittee received information about potential conflicts in facility visitation policies which prevented volunteers engaged in reentry activities from gaining access to inmates and also about the potential release of inmates with serious communicable diseases and the lack of information regarding such diseases to both the inmate and public health agencies. The Department of Corrections agreed to review Department policy to determine whether policy changes were necessary to resolve these issues.
At it's second meeting, the joint subcommittee continued it's investigation of educational issues related to prisoners, watching a video report on the Bard College Prison Initiative, which provides higher education to prison inmates in New York State; receiving an overview of correctional education programs in other states, and receiving a description of federal and state laws and regulations governing special education in Virginia and the role of the Department of Education in special education in adult and juvenile local and regional facilities. The joint subcommittee also received information on higher education programs offered in Virginia's correctional centers and challenges affecting the Department of Correctional Education's ability to provide such programs, including lack of available funding, as well as a presentation on special education in Virginia's correctional institutions. Following these presentations, the Joint Subcommittee received comment from members of the public, emphasizing the need for additional services for sex offenders, and suggesting other changes to the Commonwealth's correctional system.
The third meeting of the 2007 interim, began with a presentation on the current prisoner reentry efforts in several states, including the work of the Justice Center in assisting states in revising their prisoner reentry programming through the use of justice reinvestment strategies. The joint subcommittee then received updates from the four subcommittees of the Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy, and information on the activities of the Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy Pilot Programs. The meeting concluded with presentations on the Good Will program, which works with offenders to provide job training and allows offenders to gain and maintain employment immediately after release, and the Virginia Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, including the need to allow prisoners to start repaying restitution while incarcerated and the need for a centralized system of restitution tracking.
At the fourth meeting of the 2007 interim, the joint subcommittee heard about the Department of Criminal Justice Services Research Center's of Virginia Prisoner Reentry Programs, highlights from the Department Of Correctional Education Vocational Programs Outcome Study, conducted by Virginia Tech, and a description the process required for restoration of voting rights for violent and non-violent offenders. The second half of the fourth meeting was devoted to a discussion of the prisoner identification document procurement process, with presentations from the Department of Corrections and the Department of Motor Vehicles, which described the process governing obtaining identity documents, an agreement between the departments to implement these processes, and challenges which have limited the Department of Correction's ability to procure identity documents for prisoners, including the difficulty experienced by the Department in obtaining birth certificates for prisoners and difficulties in obtaining social security cards. The joint subcommittee resolved to send letters to the Director of the Department of Corrections, the Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Sheriff's Association, and the Virginia Association of Regional Jails, requesting that they work together to resolve these challenges.
The fifth meeting of the 2007 interim focused on development of recommendations for legislative action for the 2008 session. At this meeting, the joint subcommittee resolved to move forward with fifteen legislative recommendations, including bills to:
• Require screening for HIV and other infectious diseases;
• Require physical and mental health evaluations of all prisoners;
• Require the Department of Corrections and the Department of Child Support Enforcement to provide the amount of child support owed by a prisoner to the prisoner upon entry and regularly thereafter;
• Suspend interest on child support arrearages while incarcerated;
• Specify that incarceration does not constitute voluntary unemployment for the purposes of determining child support and to create an exception to the mandatory minimum child support payment for persons who are incarcerated;
• Centralize the restitution collection process;
• Allow for restricted drivers licenses for persons whose licenses have been suspended for driving on a previously suspended license;
• Require the Department of Corrections to take steps to secure government benefits for offenders prior to release;
• Provide that parole interviews may be conducted via videoconferencing
• Study the use of uniform risk assessment tools in parole decisions;
• Require notice to prisoners of their right to receive medical records upon release;
• Amend alcoholic beverage control laws to allow employment of persons convicted of certain crimes in licensed establishments;
• Allow for restricted license for a person whose license has been suspended for unpaid fines;
• Suspend interest on fines while incarcerated;
• Require development of comprehensive reentry plans for prisoners.
The joint subcommittee also recommended that budget amendments be made to:
• Provide funding for additional mental health and substance abuse treatment in prisons, and for Community Corrections, including additional staff and programming;
• Develop and fund a pilot project to work with a qualified institution of higher education to provide restricted internet access for educational purposes, including a report to General Assembly after 2 years;
• Allow inmates to apply for and receive state grants for higher education for low income students;
• Provide funding to increase Department of Correctional Education teacher salaries, to make salaries comparable to average statewide teacher salary (average Department of Correctional Education teacher salary is 6.43% below the statewide average for teachers);
• Provide funding to Department of Correctional Education to support learning disability/special ed. screening; including funding for educational psychologist to conduct testing;
• Provide funding to support training of youth and adult educational staff on special education instructional strategies;
• Provide funding for additional job-training programs, including purchase of technology and equipment necessary to support programs;
• Provide funding for Career Readiness Certificate program. Includes funding to (1) identify, train additional assessors, (2) conduct outreach for job development, and (3) conduct employment post-release follow-up;
• Provide funding to establish video conferencing abilities to all prisons;
• Provide funding to expand capacity of community-based services for recently released inmates;
• Provide funding for in-prison therapeutic communities to provide intensive substance abuse treatment services to offenders during transition to release;
• Provide funding to implement Prisoner Reentry Academy Pilot Program Model statewide;
• Provide additional funding to strengthen the Richmond Pilot Program One-Stop Center;
• Provide additional funding to create an additional satellite one-stop center at the Conrad Center;
• Provide funding to establish on-line employment application training at the Richmond City Jail;
• Provide funding for coordinator to oversee pilot and staff to local reentry councils;
• Fund a position for state Social Services to help coordinate local programs; provide funding to increase public awareness and support for programs;
• Establish additional day reporting programs for violators who do not pose a threat to public safety.