Governor Bob McDonnell today ceremonially signed seven pieces of legislation that strengthen re-entry policies in the Commonwealth and further enhance his commitment to ensuring a strong focus on prisoner re-entry in Virginia. The legislation includes increasing to 90 days the amount of time in which the court services unit must consult with the local department of social services before a juvenile is released from juvenile facility, requiring the Department of Corrections (DOC) to establish a personal trust account for every inmate, requiring the DOC to offer testing for human immunodeficiency virus within 60 days of release, and allowing prison workforces to assist with maintaining privately owned, abandoned cemeteries.
The legislation was signed during a morning event at the Central Virginia Goodwill Headquarters in Richmond. This location is a member of the Virginia Goodwill Network, a coalition of six Goodwill organizations in Virginia which has identified prisoner re-entry as a key priority in addressing the workforce development needs of the communities they serve in the Commonwealth. Goodwill is one of Virginia's many corporate leaders engaged in public-private partnerships to prepare inmates to return to communities after serving their prison sentence.
"The foremost priority of government is public safety," Governor McDonnell said. "As a prosecutor, state delegate, attorney general and as governor, I have worked to make Virginia's communities safer places to live, work and raise a family. One critical component to this is making sure Virginia has an effective prisoner re-entry strategy that includes strong, successful programs. An effective prisoner re-entry plan is good government. It improves public safety, reduces recidivism and victimization and improves the outcome for offenders returning to our communities. Everyone deserves a second chance. When a crime is committed, the individual responsible must be punished to the fullest extent. If you do the crime in Virginia you will do the time. But when that prison sentence is completed, and the price to society has been paid, we need to take the additional steps necessary to ensure that our prison system is not a revolving door. Currently, two-thirds of those who come out of prison are re-arrested within three years. That means new victims, and more costs to taxpayers. This is simply not acceptable. We must provide offenders who are leaving our prisons with the tools and resources they need to become productive, law-abiding members of society. We do not want to see offenders come back to jail; we want to see them go to work. That is good public policy that helps the offenders, saves taxpayer dollars and makes our communities safer."
Governor McDonnell continued, "Last year, I appointed Virginia's first statewide prisoner re-entry coordinator and established a prisoner and juvenile offender re-entry council to assist state agencies in developing a coordinated statewide re-entry strategy. Smart re-entry practices require a unified effort. Many of the re-entry services provided around the state are through faith-based and non-profit organizations, state and local agencies, and private partners. We must work together on this critical issue, and adopt policies and legislation to make sure our inmates are better prepared upon their release. Through the seven bills signed today, we will increase the opportunity for those leaving our institutions to become productive, law-abiding members of our communities. Working together, we can further reduce recidivism, foster successful transition from prison back into society, and better provide valuable evidence-based re-entry services."
Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) added, "During the General Assembly Session this year we were able to legislatively improve many of Virginia's prisoner re-entry policies. One critical component to re-entry is ensuring that inmates are prepared to enter society upon release. By requiring the Department of Corrections to establish a personal trust account with 10 percent of any money received while incarcerated up to a balance of $1,000, we are able to ensure that upon release these men and women have a small amount of money saved to get started. This is sound policy to help reduce recidivism and victimization upon re-entry."
Delegate Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg) noted, "Strengthening Virginia's prisoner re-entry program is imperative to improving public safety in our communities and I applaud Governor McDonnell in his efforts to develop a comprehensive re-entry plan. Working together with faith-based and non-profit organizations, state and local agencies, and legislatively, we have begun to identify barriers that affect successful transition of offenders back to their communities. Through the re-entry reforms already identified and passed during this year's General Assembly session and the reforms to come from the re-entry commission, we will effectively make our communities safer and improve the chances of offenders successfully becoming productive and active members of society."
"The Virginia Goodwill Network is proud of Governor McDonnell's efforts to address prisoner re-entry. Goodwill's mission is to improve individuals, families, and the communities we serve so we fully support practices and programs that make successful re-entry possible," said Charles Layman, President and CEO of the Goodwill Serving Central Virginia, one of the six Goodwill organizations serving the Commonwealth.
The governor recently wrote an op-ed on his administration's prisoner re-entry efforts for The Ripon Forum, a national policy publication. That op-ed can be read at http://www.riponsociety.org/112bm.htm.