Public Comments for: HB760 - Suspended sentence; limitation on sentence upon revocation, technical violations, penalty.
Dear Chairman and Members of the House Courts of Justice Committee, My name is Emily Mooney, and I am a policy manager at REFORM Alliance, a national nonprofit seeking to improve probation and parole policies and support public safety by creating pathways to redemption, work, and wellbeing. As part of this mission, REFORM worked with the Virginia legislature and allies such as the American Conservative Union, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and JusticeForwardVA to pass HB 2038 last year. This bill promised to support public safety, fiscal prudence, and a strong workforce by bringing Virginia’s probation policies into alignment with research that overwhelmingly suggests long probation terms and the use of prison time for technical probation violations, such as missing a meeting with one’s probation officer undermine rehabilitation and efforts to ensure people on probation become productive, taxpaying members of society. HB 758 seeks to roll back these reforms and promote lengthy probation terms by setting a new 2-year probation cap for Class 1 and 2 misdemeanors. This new cap means a defendant could spend up to 2x or 4x longer on probation than they could spend behind bars for these offenses and at least twice as long as they would under current law. Research suggests that most serious violations occur early within a defendant’s probation term (generally within the first year) and that lengthy supervision terms at best have no impact on recidivism rates. Indeed, a length of stay study of South Carolina’s and Oregon’s probation systems commissioned by PEW Charitable Trusts proves that states can safely and substantively reduce supervision terms with no negative impact on safety. We also know that excessively long probation terms contribute to high caseloads and overflowing court dockets, both of which make it difficult to focus the necessary time and resources on high-risk offenders. Placing reasonable limits on probation terms is a tried and true method for prioritizing caseloads on high-risk offenders, saving millions of dollars, and decreasing recidivism and community instability. HB 758 undermines all of these goals. In addition to setting higher misdemeanor caps, HB 758 seeks to eliminate the graduated sanctions implemented under last years’ probation reforms which sought to limit needless, costly incarceration and workforce disruptions for technical violations like failing to notify a probation officer of a change of employment. Without these parameters, missed meetings with probation officers or other very minor failures to follow complicated rules will subject huge numbers of people to incarceration, damaging their ability to continue mending their lives, supporting their families, and pursuing life goals. This bill would drag many people back into the legal system, ensuring probation becomes a pipeline to prison rather than a launchpad for success. Finally, the new definition of technical violation (vii) under HB 760 is also problematic. By exempting drug use or possession of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance from the definition of a technical violation, HB 760 opens up another way to put addicts in jail for long time periods, which we know begets numerous negative consequences and doesn't help with rehabilitation in most cases. For these reasons, I urge you to vote against HB 758 and HB 760 and oppose any rollbacks. Sincerely, Emily Mooney Policy Manager REFORM Alliance