Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2005

SJR 273 - Commonwealth's Program for Prisoner Reentry to Society

July 27, 2005

Senate Joint Resolution 273 (Puller) is the enabling resolution for this 14-member joint subcommittee. The joint subcommittee consists of six General Assembly members, Senators Linda T. Puller (Chairman) and William C. Mims and Delegates John J. Welch, III (Vice Chairman), Robert B. Bell, Bradley P. Marrs, and Rosalyn R. Dance; two citizen members, Mark Earley and Lisa Thomas; and six ex-officio members, John W. Marshall, Secretary of Public Safety, Gene M. Johnson, Director of the Department of Corrections, Walter A. McFarlane, Superintendent of the 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, and Dolores A. Esser, Commissioner of the Virginia Employment Commission. The joint subcommittee held its first meeting in Richmond at the General Assembly Building on July 27, 2005.


The process of leaving prison and returning to society or "prisoner reentry" has become a significant challenge in Virginia and nationally. President Bush, in his State of the Union message in January 2004, stated, "We know from long experience that if [former prisoners] can't find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison.... America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life." In 2003, Virginia was selected to participate in the National Governor's Association Policy Academy on Prisoner Reentry (Policy Academy). SJR 273 directs the joint subcommittee to "continue the work of the Policy Academy in identifying and developing strategies to address key needs and overcome barriers for offenders, prior to and upon leaving prison, to reduce the incidence of reincarceration and increase their successful social adaptation and integration into their communities."

The joint subcommittee viewed a videotape entitled "Success Stories: Change is Possible," which is about four people who struggled with substance abuse, destructive behavior, and prison time. The Virginia Department of Correctional Education shows this videotape to offenders to assist them in making a plan for transition and recovery. The videotape provides real-life role models to offer guidance to offenders. It was shown to the joint subcommittee to demonstrate the following key needs that this study will be addressing:

1. Employment and education.
2. Housing and community resources.
3. Mental health and substance abuse treatment.
4. Social reintegration.


Barry Green, Director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, leads the state's Policy Academy team and provided an overview of Virginia's actions and plans for prisoner reentry. First, Mr. Green talked about why reentry is an issue that needs to be addressed. Between Fiscal Years 1998 and 2004:

  • The number of offenders that were committed by the courts to the Department of Corrections increased by 26% (from 8,816 commitments to 11,102 annually).
  • The number of violent index crimes per 100,000 people decreased by 13.7%, the number of property index crimes per 100,000 people decreased by 18.4%, and arrest rates also declined.
  • The state responsible inmate population grew by 25% (from 28,650 to 35,900 annually).
    The number of female inmates increased from 6.2% to 7.7% of the prison population.

Mr. Green noted that the number of commitments is expected to grow at an average rate of 3.4% over each of the next six years, despite the fact that crime and arrests are decreasing. This is occurring because:

  • The average time served for those released in 1998 was 38 months.
  • The average time served for those released in 2004 was over 44 months.
  • There is an increase in the number of probation technical violators (not included in crime or arrest statistics) returned to prison.

Further, the 1994 Session of the General Assembly enacted parole and sentencing reforms that included the abolition of parole as of January 1, 1995, a sentencing commission, and truth-in-sentencing. As a result, many offenders are serving longer sentences for violent crime and, under the sentencing guidelines, repeat offenders receive longer sentences than first time offenders.

Mr. Green stated that between Fiscal Years 1998 and 2004 the number of offenders committed to the State who previously had served time in state prisons increased from 30.9% to 32.6%. Unless Virginia changes the way it plans and carries out reentry strategies, the State will see a continued growth in the numbers of offenders returned to prison. Mr. Green remarked that Virginia has a well-run correctional system, but it can do a better job of reducing the numbers of victims of crime if it does more to prevent inmates from reoffending.

Virginia's approach to prisoner reentry as a result of its involvement in the Policy Academy has been to identify key needs and barriers. According to Mr. Green, a Policy Academy workgroup, which has been working since 2003, sought to:

  • Identify prisoner needs that require attention during the period of incarceration.
  • Establish an inventory of programs designed to address those needs.
  • Review how the transition from prison environment and control to community life is managed prior to release.
  • Review how transition is managed upon release.
  • Identify programs to manage issues that arise after release.
  • Identify what can be done to improve outcomes after transition.

This work group consists of multiple state agencies across secretariats. Mr. Green emphasized that successful reentry extends beyond public agencies and resources. Therefore, state and local government agencies, non-profits, and faith-based groups play very important roles on the workgroup, as well. Among the workgroup's proposals are to (i) create a risk assessment instrument when the offender enters prison that identifies required programming prior to release, (ii) increase and improv planning for education and job skills training in prisons, (iii) begin the reintegration process prior to the end of a prisoner's sentence, (iv) improve access for those who may qualify for disability services, and (v) improve coordination of medical and mental health treatment.

Mr. Green identified the four key needs for successful prisoner entry: stable employment, stable housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and family reintegration and support. The barriers to successfully addressing these needs for former prisoners include lack of resources and useful data, chronic homelessness and unemployment in this population, and the inconsistent coordination of services and assistance among agencies in communities. In addition to the creation of the SJR 273 joint subcommittee, the 2005 Session of the General Assembly passed HB 1763 (Dillard) that codified the ongoing reentry effort by requiring the Secretary of Public Safety to establish an integrated system for coordinating the planning and provision of offender transitional and reentry services among state, local, and non-profit agencies. Mr. Green concluded by stating he would like to see the new law amended, or language included in the appropriation act, to require an annual report on activities related to reentry.

Characteristics of Virginia's Returning Prisoners

    11,432 inmates were released from prison in 2004:

    • 38 % were Caucasian
    • 61 % were African-American
    • Average age at time of release was 35.3 years
    • 49 % had been committed for a non-violent offense
    • 24 % had been committed for a drug offense
    • 27 % had been committed for a violent offense
    • 52 % entered prison without a high school diploma or GED
    • 13.6 % had no prior history of employment
    • Three of four had a history of alcohol or drug abuse
    • 19 % had been diagnosed with a chronic or communicable disease
    • An estimated 15 % had some form of mental illness or mental disorder

Source: Barry Green's presentation to SJR 273 Joint Subcommittee, July 27, 2005,
based on Virginia Department of Corrections data.



The joint subcommittee asked numerous questions of Mr. Green and discussed the possible topics for additional meetings, including presentations on the key needs for successful reentry-stable employment, stable housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and family reintegration and support. The joint subcommittee specifically requested presentations on the therapeutic community programs run by the Department of Corrections, federal faith-based initiatives relating to offenders, and mentoring programs for prisoners who are transitioning back into communities.


The joint subcommittee has tentatively scheduled its next meeting on September 12, 2005, at 1 p.m. in Richmond. The joint subcommittee will hold an additional meeting in October in Northern Virginia and has tentatively scheduled its final meeting on November 15, 2005, in Richmond.

The Hon. Linda T. Puller

For information, contact:
Amy Marschean, DLS Staff



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