prison reform

When Governor Ralph Northam was exposed for wearing blackface back in 2019, his own political rehabilitation, not the needs of Virginian’s, suddenly became his foremost concern.

In an on-brand fashion, Northam’s latest budget is another example of the Governor telling the people he wants to help — instead of actually helping. After a string of legal and procedural violations by Virginia’s Parole Board, Northam’s press release regarding his budget included the following:

“The Governor’s budget invests over $700,000 in the Virginia Parole Board to improve victim services assistance and notification and to hire additional investigators, examiners, and a release planning coordinator.”

This gesture may seem helpful, but the ability to affect real change to the Parole Board’s problems has rested with Ralph Northam since he took office — and these solutions don’t include throwing more money at the problem.

The Virginia Parole Board’s blunders went public this summer when they released Vincent Martin, convicted of murdering a police officer, amid an ongoing investigation by the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) on the matter. Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) took particular issue with this, stating:

“Only months earlier, the Board had denied his parole citing ‘Extensive criminal record, history of violence, the serious nature and circumstances of his offense(s), and prior failure(s) and/or convictions while under community supervision.’

To make matters worse, the Board failed to notify the victim’s family members upon Martin’s release — which they are required to do. Despite the Parole Board having already let Vincent Martin walk, the OSIG still released their findings. Though almost entirely redacted, the report said that claims of legal and procedural violations by the board “have been substantiated.”

The absence of law, order, and justice by Virginia’s Parole Board is not just limited to this occurrence. Releasing convicted murders without proper justification and without notifying the proper individuals seems to be a trend. Governor Northam, however, always possessed the ability to remove the Board’s members or reverse their decisions — which makes his new budget proposal even more hollow.

While prominent Republicans urged the Governor to take action on the matter Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring was busy telling the Parole Board to keep their decisions in the dark — and hold tight to their FOIA exemption.

Further, Northam remained silent as the House of Delegates killed legislation from Senators Obenshain and David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County) to bring transparency and accountability to this system.

Governor Northam, on the other hand, has been more focused with helping the Parole Board manage this public relations crisis behind closed doors, instead of holding their feet to the fire as he should.

Former Governor Mark Warner (D-Virginia) was quick to demand resignations of Parole Board members who violated laws and procedures. Instead of doing the same — as he should — Ralph Northam is doubling down, working with the Board to keep as much information hidden as possible, and most recently siding with the Parole Board’s decision to release Gregory Joyner, who was convicted of attempted rape and first-degree murder of a 15-year old girl.

The Governor’s proclivity towards virtue signaling policy is once again on display with his latest budget proposal. $700,000 is not what the Board needs to finally make decisions transparently and actually notify victims’ families — as they are required.

The necessary condition is a governor willing to actually remove bad actors on the Board, bad actors appointed, in fact, by him and his former superior, Terry McAuliffe.

Until new leadership assumes control of Virginia’s Executive Mansion, expect more of the same: a sheepish Governor more concerned with his own political rehabilitation than ensuring law and order remains strong in the Commonwealth.