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Virginia Parole Commission moves closer to recommendation to Governor

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - It's the home stretch for Virginia's Parole Commission. The bipartisan panel is examining the pros and cons of re-instating parole in Virginia. The commission is expected to make a recommendation to Governor Terry McAuliffe by December 4th.

Several factors including the possible impact on crime rates, costs associated with incarceration and recidivism will play a role in the commission's recommendation.

The commonwealth eliminated parole 20 years ago. Now, a group including law enforcement professionals, legislators, community leaders and academics are reviewing Virginia's approach to parole. They plan to make recommendations such as any policy changes that may enhance public safety while protecting taxpayer dollars.

Shawn Hunter, a community advocate, supports the idea of having a parole system in Virginia. He said having a support system including job training for former inmates is key.

"They will become tax payers and productive citizens," said Hunter.

According to the Virginia Re-entry Coalition, Pre-release and Post-Incarceration Services or (PAPIS) have increased the number of job placements secured by ex-offenders and reduced the rates of re-arrest.

Figures show during the 2014-15 fiscal year, the PAPIS programs served more than 15,000 people which is a 38% increase over the previous year, according to data from Virginia Re-entry Coalition. Data also shows nearly 5700 ex-offenders received job assistance, job placement and other job-related services. In addition more than 1,800 jobs were obtained which is a 57% increase over 2013-14.

Hunter said bringing parole back, will give people a opportunity for a second chance and encourage them to become productive citizens.

"It will give them the initiative to say "I need to get my GED to make parole or I need to pick up a trade or skill so I can make parole"" said Hunter.

Others believe Virginia should keep it's tough on crime stance. They said abolishing parole has helped reduce crime and recidivism rates. The commission continues to examine both sides and review factors such as overall costs, public safety and available re-entry programs to see what may work best for the state.

The commission is expected to meet again on November 18, 2015.