Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged

Fighting to reverse the trend of mass incarceration and correcting sentencing bias and injustices that remain uncorrected in Virginia." -- Lillie Branch-Kennedy, Founder/Executive Director Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged & Disenfranchised (RIHD)

2015-2016 RIHD Legislative Agenda/Position Papers for Reforms

Aug 3, 2015 | by admin

Legislation to “correct sentencing injustices from the past that remain uncorrected.”

RIHD is a small, but extremely active, all-volunteer organization established in September 2002.  During the interim years, we have worked tirelessly in many areas of criminal justice reform, even when no one appeared to be listening.  We stand humbly on our accomplishments and are very proud that other like-minded organizations have used our ideas as a basis for their respective programming.  Together, we have all made a commitment and concerted effort to effect change, not only in Virginia, but nationwide.

Today, there are approximately 4,000 parole-eligible prisoners (before 1995) in Virginia, many of whom are first-offenders.  RIHD believes those funds being used to house these prisoners can be better utilized toward increasing pre-release educational/rehabilitative programs and/or expanding reentry assistance.  It is clear through RIHD and PAFERJ, 2010 Sentencing Disparity project, research, documenting thousands of truth-in-sentencing prisoners (after 1995), it became clear that the need for sentencing reform and establishment of remedies to correct injustices of the past was a priority.  It is also clear that there remain serious issues with the application of three (3) strike rule in Virginia.  RIHD wants to clarify that we are not advocating an “open door” policy which would capriciously release all prisoners.  Any society requires a construct of laws of governance and appropriate consequences when those laws are violated, however laws (e.g. sentencing, parole board decisions) must be fair and consistent.


The Injustice of Five Years of Unfair Jury Trials:  1995-2000, Juries that sentenced offenders in the months and years following the abolition of parole were not instructed by judges that parole had been abolished; thus, they imposed sentences under the erroneous impression that only a fraction of the sentence would be served by the offender.  Fishback v. Commonwealth, 260 Va. 104, 532 S.E. 2d 629 (2000), that the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that judges must instruct jurors in all non-capital cases that parole has been abolished.  RIHD proposed position paper bill is to correct a grave injustice that remains uncorrected. Some of the men and women sentenced by juries prior to Fishback remain imprisoned due to the unusually long sentences imposed by the uninstructed jury. This bill will afford them the opportunity to be sentenced by a properly instructed jury or an opportunity to negotiate a reduced sentence.

Use of Discretionary Sentencing Guidelines § 19.2-298.01. Use of discretionary sentencing guidelines.  That §§ 19.2-298.01(B) and 19.2-298.01(F) are amended and reenacted as follows: In any felony case, other than Class 1 felonies, in which the court imposes a sentence which is either greater or less than that indicated by the discretionary sentencing guidelines, the court shall file with the record of the case a written explanation of such departure. The written explanation must show a substantial and compelling reason for the departure and must adequately explain the chosen sentence to allow for meaningful appellate review and to promote the perception of fair sentencing. Any reason given to justify the departure must not be one that has already been considered in calculating the guidelines recommendation, including such factors and reasons for enhancement in the provisions of Code § 17.1-805.   The failure to follow any or all of the provisions of this section or the failure to follow any or all of the provisions of this section in the prescribed manner or the failure to impose sentence within the range recommended by the sentencing guidelines shall be reviewable on appeal. In reviewing the sentence, the appellate court must first ensure that the court made no significant procedural errors and then consider the sentence’s substantive reasonableness under a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard, taking into account the totality of the circumstances. This provision shall be retroactive to all cases where the defendant is presently under the custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections.

RIHD and partners is gearing up for its 4th tour of Virginia to raise awareness around justice issues that affect people with criminal records, and to provide direct services. Called the Mobile Justice Tour,the event launches on Tuesday, August 18, with a focus on sentencing reform to end mass incarceration, restoring the rights to as many people with a record, sharing justice-related information and updates.  RIHD look forward to hitting the road, visiting your communities.  Join Us – Free – Public. ##