Virginia has launched a website that Gov. Ralph Northam says will streamline the commonwealth’s process for granting clemency, which includes a portal to submit petitions.
Virginia abolished parole in 1995, mandating that all prisoners serve at least 85% of their sentences before being considered for release.
A bill that would have restored the parole process didn’t advance in the Virginia Senate in January 2021.
The new website is aimed at dealing with the backlog of clemency requests in the commonwealth, as well as offering an easier process of submitting a petition to receive a pardon. The website also features an FAQ section for those seeking more information about how pardons work in Virginia.
Northam also appointed Lethia Hammond as vice chair of the Virginia Parole Board.
Prior to her appointment to the parole board, Hammond served as the assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Botetourt County.
“Lethia Hammond’s vast experience in the criminal justice system will strengthen the Virginia Parole Board and its important work,” Northam said in a statement. “Building a stronger, fairer, and more inclusive Commonwealth means giving Virginians who have paid their debt to society and a second chance.”
While discretionary parole is not applicable to most people convicted of felonies in Virginia after Jan. 1, 1995, some offenders are eligible if they meet certain criteria. In 2020, Northam passed a law permitting some individuals sentenced by juries between 1995 and 2000 to be eligible for parole.
According to the release, those with “exceptional circumstances who have demonstrated rehabilitation” may be eligible to receive a pardon. If an individual believes they meet the criteria, they can petition the governor for a pardon. To date, Northam has granted around 300 pardons since he took office.
Northam also removed a requirement that forced those seeking a pardon to obtain a copy of their criminal histories, which he said is too costly and time-consuming a task for someone who is incarcerated to accomplish.