A Virginia law that only lasted a few years has affected certain prisoners for their entire lives. In fact, even though these prisoners committed non-violent crimes and hadn’t been convicted of a crime in the past, some of them have been in prison longer than those who have committed murder. The law was a “three strikes” law. It began in 1982. Those convicted under this law became ineligible for discretionary parole after a certain number of years. What’s worse is that some of these prisoners didn’t know that they were convicted as part of the three-strikes law until it was too late.
From 1982 through 1995 under the three-strikes law, parole was abolished in Virginia. Later on, the law was changed so that those who committed crimes “at liberty” or were convicted but not incarcerated would be punished under the new “three-strikes” law. However, this law did not help those punished under the old three-strikes law, which did not contain the phrase “at liberty.”
According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, those who were convicted of homicide in the first degree and had been released from prison between the years of 2011 and 2017 ultimately served a sentence of approximately 23 years. However, those who got caught by the 1982 three-strikes law are still in prison. According to the DOC, 262 individuals are currently incarcerated either under the 1982 law or under a comparable law regarding drug crimes.
Keeping people in prison is expensive — each inmate will cost the state nearly $30,000 per year. And many people caught under the three-strikes law do not receive the attention from the public that, for example, death row inmates receive from those who oppose the death penalty. In 2015, a commission created by the Governor found that many prisoners might have received a wrongful classification as three-strikers and that the issue deserved further review. Some politicians attempted to change the three-strikes law, but their measures ultimately failed. In 1996 the American Civil Liberties Union developed a plan to file a lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of the three-strikes law, but the lawsuit was never filed.
Unfortunately, too many people got caught up in Virginia’s archaic and, ultimately, inappropriate three-strikes law. Hopefully by shedding light on this issue, action will be taken to resolve the problem.
Source: The Virginia-Pilot, “Virginia bureaucrats are keeping nonviolent convicts in prison longer than murderers,” Tim Eberly, Nov. 29, 2017