By ERIC LUTHER
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A new bill aiming to amend and reenact the Code of Virginia requirements allowing individuals guilty of misdemeanors and certain nonviolent felonies to serve nonconsecutive jail sentences has been proposed by Sen. William Stanley Jr., R-Moneta.
Senate Bill 167 seeks to remove a code provision stating a criminal sentence of nonconsecutive days only be issued on the basis of allowing a convicted individual to retain employment.
Aaron Houchens, a spokesman for Stanley, says the senator is removing this language to allow certain convicts to serve sentences on a weekend basis.
“The real intent of this bill is to permit those convicted of crimes, (who) may be looking for a job, seek employment or care for their children, and still have the ability to serve weekend time,” Houchens said. “It’s not just to gain employment in that regard.”
Sen. George Barker, D- Alexandria, who serves on the House Committee of Rehabilitation and Social Services, says there are certain family situations where added flexibility is beneficial to others if an individual serves his or her sentence over a longer period of time and is not incarcerated for 30 straight days.
“It may be that you’re taking care of kids, grandma or somebody else on certain days, and can serve your jail time on other days,” Barker said. “This (bill) provides a little more flexibility to the judge in issuing a sentence.”
Barker says the bill will make sure families are not suffering unduly as a result of the individual’s offense.
“It does promote things that are good for the individual and their families long term,” Barker said. “It is much more likely they can stay in school, work or deal with family situations.”
However, the bill does not extend itself to all types of nonviolent wrongdoings, according to Barker. For example, some drug crimes are not considered physically violent but still are categorized as violent felonies.
Barker also says the proposed legislation only applies to sentences of one year or less being served in a local jail.
“In a significant felony, an individual does not go to a local jail,” Barker said. “If your sentence is for a year or more you are sent to state prison. This bill would not apply then.”
To offset the cost of additional, weekend jail staff, Houchens says those electing to serve weekend sentences should expect to pay for the cost of their keep when reporting for incarceration.
“Typically there is a cost associated with weekend jail time,” Houchens said. “More activity on the weekend leads to the need for more deputies to run maintenance and retain peace and stability in the jail.”
Joe Szakos, executive director of Virginia Organizing Project, says his organization is committed to making sure there are community-based programs that serve everyone, including those who have made a mistake sometime in their life.
Instead of sending people away in an isolated way, Szakos says it is important to think about how we can have them serve their sentence as close to home as possible.
Szakos also says if passing SB 167 means more people keep their jobs, then passage is the right thing to do.
“We want to applaud Sen. Stanley for trying to figure out ways to keep people in the community,” Szakos said. “So they can keep their jobs and serve their sentence at the same time.”
SB 167 currently is awaiting deliberation from the House Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.