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Truth-in-Sentencing in Virginia

NCJ Number
Date Published
91 pages
This study evaluates the development and impact of Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) in the State of Virginia, examining sentencing in Virginia from 1980 through the first three years of TIS reform (1995 to 1997).
This report is the result of an 18-month partnership project funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the development and impact of TIS in Virginia. The purpose of the evaluation, conducted by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (VCSC) in partnership with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), was to: (1) analyze the approach used in Virginia to develop and implement one of the Nation’s pioneering efforts in TIS, including the abolition of parole and the initiative to increase prison sentences for violent offenders; (2) critically evaluate the analyses conducted to forecast the impact of TIS on sentencing outcomes and prison population; and (3) begin the process of conducting an evaluation of the impact of Virginia’s sentencing reforms on recidivism among violent offenders. Highlights of major findings include: (1) Virginia’s sentencing reforms abolished parole, reduced good time allowances to ensure that inmates serve a minimum of 85 percent of their imposed sentence, and increased prison sentences for violent and repeat offenders; (2) the judicial sentencing recommendations under Virginia’s TIS guidelines remain voluntary, but are usually followed by judges (currently, judicial compliance rates are equal to or exceed overall pre-TIS guideline compliance rates of 78 percent); (3) analysts in Virginia forecast that more than 26,000 violent and 94,000 nonviolent felonies are expected to be averted between 1995 and 2005 by the passage of TIS; (4) the prison population under TIS has been lower than originally forecasted (several possible reasons for these overestimates are lower than expected crime rates and inaccurate estimates of new admissions to prison); (5) as part of a long-term recidivism analysis, baseline recidivism rates were established for the offender population released from prison prior to the introduction of TIS (half (49.3 percent) of all offenders released from prison in 1993 were re-arrested for any new crime within three years; the number of persons who recidivate drops quickly as the measure of recidivism becomes more conservative); and (6) property offenders have the highest rates of recidivism, followed by drug offenders, then violent offenders. The benefit of the sentencing guideline approach is that it allows for a more accurate assessment of the likely impact of a change in sentencing and/or parole policy. Guideline systems are the most cost-effective means of providing rational structure, relevant data, and the ability to accurately monitor and forecast sentencing outcomes. Bibliography

Date Published: January 1, 1999