Virginia Senate votes to make many prisoners eligible for release at age 50

Virginia Senate votes to make many prisoners eligible for release at age 50
Dorothea Puente as she appeared in the early part of her killing spree (Image: YouTube screen grab)

The Virginia Senate voted 21-to-19 on Monday to make prison inmates (including many murderers) eligible for “geriatric release” as early as age 50.  The vote was largely along party lines, with all Democrats except Lynwood Lewis voting for the bill, and all Republicans except Emmett Hanger voting against it.

The bill, SB 624, effectively reinstates parole for many long-time inmates. Parole was largely abolished by the Virginia legislature back in 1995. The bill also guts Virginia’s three strikes law, which previously required life without parole for offenders convicted of three separate murders, rapes, or robberies, or any combination of the three. Restrictions on parole reflected the fact that murderers sometimes kill again after being released.

SB 624 would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. Previously, the minimum age for geriatric release was 60. The murder rate is much higher among people in their 50s than in their 60s, and a larger share of famous serial killers were active in their 50s than in their 60s. For example, John Reginald Christie, Dorothea Puente, and Albert Fish all started killing in their 50s.

Inmates would not be eligible for geriatric release under the bill if they committed a “Class 1 felony.” But even most premeditated murders are not Class 1 felonies, which include only a narrow range of killings, such as murders of cops or young children. In Virginia, “First-degree murder is classified as a Class 2 felony,” notes a web site about state laws.

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Dictionaries define “geriatric” as meaning elderly, and elderly as starting at age 60 or 65. People in their 50s are defined as middle-aged.

I previously discussed arguments for the bill at this link.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at [email protected]


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