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An Outlier on Prison Reform Addresses the Second Look Bill

January 1, 2024


My name is Anthony Winn, and I am outlier when it comes to prison reform.

 

The Potential Impact


Currently, Virginia has no law in place for sentence modifications beyond 21 days after sentencing, granted a few exceptions. However, there is a legislative bill called Second Look. The Second Look bill authorizes the courts the discretion to modify inmates' sentences after meeting the requirements. By reducing the number of the incarcerated through just means, this bill has the potential that could change the culture of mass incarceration.



The Second Look Bill, in Brief


Sponsors of the Bill in Virginia's General Assembly:

HB 906 in the Virginia House of Delegates: Delegate Carrie Coyner

SB 378 in the Senate of Virginia: Senator J. Chapman Peterson


These requirements are not as easy as one might assume. Such criteria consist of serving at least 10 years before even being considered, in addition to meeting behavior standards. Following the prison rules for 5 years without a charge is not a difficult task, but is a reward within itself. Sometimes an inmate has to be wrong in order to be right.

 

Where I Find Myself Today


If my behavior has demonstrated a positive transformation, should I be provided a second look at my 36 year sentence?

 

As of right now,

  • I have been overlooked and excluded from the 2022 Earned Sentence Credit. This bill granted relief for nonviolent offenses, where inmates could receive 15 credits for every 30 days served. My violent offenses disqualified me.

  • Another form of relief that has bypassed me was under the Fishback ruling; inmates are permitted access to the review of the parole board, because during sentencing the jury was not informed about the abolishment of parole from 1995 to 2000.

  • Lastly, juveniles who have been sentenced to harsh sentences are reviewed by the parole board. I entered prison at the age of 19, so this form of relief eluded me also.


As of right now I have two forms of relief. The first is an executive clemency, where I believe a high standard is clouded by strong political implications. Regardless if I have been on my best behavior, the political climate for me is not in season; the Governor of Virginia decides my fate.


My negative behavior rewarded me this long prison term; likewise, my positive behavior should afford me a second look to shorten my sentence.

Then, there are the "truth in sentencing policies". These draconian laws in the mid nineties were drafted to lock away my generation, labelled as "super-predators". The maximum amount of good time credit I can receive is 4.5 credit days for every 30 days I serve.


How the Second Look Bill Would Affect Me

 

The Second Look bill would recognize that over the past two decades I ran toward opportunities that required more responsibilities. I signed myself up for the Victim Impact program. I committed crimes and broke many laws, yet I am studying law. One day I look forward to being in committees that create just laws. Currently, I am assigned as a law library clerk, and have been for the past seven years.

 

To highlight my achievement would take too many words, but I can point out that I created programs by my own design. My time is valuable. During this sentence I have never been bored. Changing negative habits into positive ones is not something a person can develop over a few weeks.

 

Even though family members encourage me to be good, no one in the institutions pushed me in a positive direction. Faced with 36 years, I still chose to become a better version of myself. Sometimes my efforts would go unnoticed, but that do not mean I should not be a good person.

 

Changing the Culture of Mass Incarceration


Now this Second Look bill would put all parties on notice, families and communities and victims. Within a court setting it could display an inmates growth. So all parties involved could have an input.


Virginia Department of Corrections focuses more on institutional charges than on educational and vocational achievements. Good behavior receives less attention. During my annual reviews counselors did not have much to discuss since I have not caught a charge in over 12 years. I have completed more than the required educational and vocational programs. They had difficulty finding the positive things on the database, yet charges were easy to find.


This is the culture of the system that must be changed. The Second Look offers a new direction towards reforming the way we view the prison system. With available resources, I am more valuable in society than in prison.


Veteran staff members have stated that I do not belong in prison. My character is not synonymous with this prison lifestyle.

 

The more I learned the more I've thought about serious issues that come along later in one’s life. I am trying to put myself in a better position, like retirement. But I need to be in society. The more time I am able to contribute to my future finances the better my quality of life will be, based on knowing what I know. I can provide for myself. I developed the necessary skills over the years. Being released early - on the merits of good behavior, educational attainment, and redemption - provides the opportunity to put my life on track towards being a productive and contributing citizen.

 

In Conclusion - It's Personal


Of course I would like a reward. I earned it. The implications of the Second Look implies that I am more valuable being in society than being warehoused in a prison system that places emphasis on bad behavior. Veteran staff members have stated that I do not belong in prison. My character is not synonymous with this prison lifestyle. My negative behavior rewarded me this long prison term; likewise, my positive behavior should afford me a second look to shorten my sentence. I envision that my community will accept me as a gift. Let this legislation be an added reform to others misplaced by the current laws that are unavailable for us in this similar situation.

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