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Opinion/Editorial: Parole controversy continues

Opinion/Editorial: Parole controversy continues

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In the contentious fight over who did what wrong at the Virginia Parole Board — or at the Office of the State Inspector General, by some lights — here’s a nugget worth noting:

The former parole board chairwoman personally released more than 100 parolees from supervision, violating longstanding rules, according to a draft version of an unreleased OSIG report.

More than 100.

Subsequent arguments have centered on whether the OSIG was biased in investigating the chairman and citing her actions as violations, or whether the governor’s office and other state officials and political leaders were wrong in allegedly interfering with the results of the investigation.

We still don’t know the answer to those contradictory claims.

But it’s staggering that the report says Chairwoman Adrianne Bennett made her own decisions about parole releases over and over again without consulting either the board or the parole officers involved in the cases.

Under this scenario, Bennett became a law unto herself.

As now, perhaps, she is again. In one of the strangest ironies of this conflict, Bennett — appointed parole board chairman by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe — is now a juvenile and domestic relations judge in Virginia Beach. She was approved for the post by state lawmakers in April 2020, just as the board scandal was about to break.

In a story based on the full draft version of the OSIG report, the Richmond Times-Dispatch cites several cases, among them that of Anthony Anderson, sentenced to two life terms plus 85 years for crimes committed at age 16 that included helping to kill a corrections officer, killing another man in an unsuccessful robbery, raping a woman, and robbing two businesses.

With Bennett at the helm, the board granted Anderson parole in 2018. Then two years later, according to the report, she unilaterally removed him from parole supervision — in violation of existing policies.

The draft report says that Bennett went on a parole-release spree in her final 10 days on the job. Anderson was one of 103 parolees whom she discharged from supervision “at her sole discretion,” according to the report. Sixty-nine of those people had been serving life sentences — or even life sentences plus additional time — indicating that they had committed egregious crimes.

For parolees who had been serving life sentences or more, policy required them to complete the rest of their sentences under supervision. The only way around that stipulation was for their parole officers to recommend the end of supervision, and then for the parole board to formally concur.

Bennett skipped both these steps, according to the report.

And it’s not just about policy.

The Times-Dispatch says: “Virginia law does not specifically grant the parole board chair the power to release parolees from supervision. The law also states that parolees will be granted final discharges when the board determines it ‘will not be incompatible with the welfare of such person or of society.’”

The newspaper also obtained emails between Bennett and an office assistant who advised on which parolees to release.

“I feel drunk with power,” the assistant says at one point.

“Waive that wand of power and let’s cut them loose,” Bennett says in another email.

A Freudian slip? “Waive,” as in “refrain from applying or enforcing” a rule or restriction?

That the report is unreleased is part of the controversy.

The Northam administration claims the investigation is flawed and even potentially politically motivated.

An investigator who turned whistleblower — and who was fired from her job despite a previously glowing performance review — claims that the administration has sought to intimidate the IG’s office.

The Northam administration denies this.

Some of the answers may emerge in court, since the whistleblower has filed a lawsuit.

But for now we have a draft, unreleased report that seems to contain extensive documentation of an abuse of power.

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