SD13 - Prisoner Reentry to Society

    Executive Summary:
    Joint Subcommittee Studying the Commonwealth’s Program for Prisoner Reentry to Society

    Senate Joint Resolution 126, agreed to during the 2006 Session of the General Assembly, established a joint subcommittee to continue the study of the Commonwealth's program for prisoner reentry initiated by Senate Joint Resolution 273 (2005). In addition to continuing the study objectives set forth in SJR 273 (2005) to identify needs, barriers, and strategies to reduce recidivism and improve reintegration upon release, SJR 126 (2006) charged the subcommittee to consider the adverse effects of incarceration on children, families, communities, and the economy, and to monitor 2006 budget provisions and recommended changes to the law.

    As the joint subcommittee continued its study in Virginia, the issue of prisoner reentry gained national attention based on federal legislation and data showing record expenditures on corrections, rising prison and jail populations, millions of children and other family members affected, high recidivism rates, and over a million former inmates returning to their communities each year. In light of the potential benefits to both state budgets and public safety, the goals of successful reentry came to the fore across the country. In competition with other states, the National Governors Association awarded the Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy a second term of grants and technical support to develop its reentry programs. Moreover, by Executive Order, the Governor formally recognized the Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy, which launched its pilot programs in 2006.

    The joint subcommittee consists of 17 members: six General Assembly members, four nonlegislative citizen members, and seven ex officio members. The legislative members are Senators Linda T. Puller (Chair) and Patricia S. Ticer, and Delegates John J. Welch (Vice-Chair), Robert B. Bell, Thomas C. Wright, Jr. and Rosalyn R. Dance. The four citizen members are Mark Earley, Jeffrey Dion, Lisa Thomas, and Barbara Slayden. The ex officio members are John W. Marshall, Secretary of Public Safety; Gene M. Johnson, Director of the Department of Corrections; Walter A. McFarlane, Superintendent, Department of Correctional Education; James S. Reinhard, M.D., Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services; Anthony Conyers, Jr., Commissioner of the Department of Social Services; Dolores A. Esser, Commissioner of the Virginia Employment Commission; and William C. Mims, Deputy Attorney General of the Office of the Attorney General.

    Information about the activities of the joint subcommittee is available at its web site:

    During its first meeting, the joint subcommittee reviewed its prior recommendations, proposed legislation, related legislation considered during the 2006 session, and recent budget amendments that impact prisoner reentry. The joint subcommittee also received information on the status of the Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy with reports from the Employment and Education Subcommittee and the Social Reintegration Subcommittee.

    At its second meeting, the joint subcommittee focused on the needs and barriers to reentry represented by the Mental Health, Health, and Substance Abuse Subcommittee of the Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy. The joint subcommittee heard reports from medical and psychological experts on these issues and treatment for inmates, as well as the correlation between these factors, crime, and recidivism. The joint subcommittee further considered presentations on successful non-profit and faith-based approaches to reentry upon release.

    At its public hearing, the joint subcommittee received testimony from over 30 citizens, who shared their experiences and provided suggestions to improve the process of prisoner reentry in Virginia.

    Finally, at its last meeting of the interim, the joint subcommittee heard a summary of status reports on prisoner reentry and career training programs required by the 2006 Appropriations Act. The third meeting centered on economic concerns represented by the Policy Academy Subcommittee on Financial Obligations, Housing, and Financial and Community Resources. In addition, the meeting included requested presentations on the Virginia Parole Board, church involvement to reclaim former offenders, and technology to improve inmate visitation. In conclusion, the joint subcommittee considered its Proposals for Discussion and public comments received in response.

    Proposals for Discussion
    Based on research, presentations, and testimony before the joint subcommittee, staff released proposals for public comment on eight primary subjects: 1) Driver’s Licenses and Identification; 2) Debt Load and Child Support Arrearages; 3) Financial Provision upon Release; 4) Parenting and Life Skills; 5) Health and Mental Health Treatment of Inmates; 6) Educational Preparation for Reentry; 7) Employment Opportunities; and 8) Visitation Programs at Correctional Centers.

    [Note: This has been continued until 2008 -- see SJR 327 and HJR 652 (2007).]