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... And Good Time For All

I am fully in support of the passing of good time bill SB5034 for nonviolent offenders but after listening to the Senate hearing today I was extremely disappointed, because having read the Senate Good Time Bill (SB5043) it only reinforced the exclusion of violent offenders from eligibility and the total disregard for their effort towards rehabilitation. I began to think about rehabilitation and my journey over the past 20 years. I was convicted of Armed Robbery where no one was physically hurt and was sentenced to 26 years (my release date is 2022). Over the years I have done all that I can for my own rehabilitation, including but not limited to obtaining my Paralegal certification (I was also Law Clerk for 4 years), certifications for Administrative Clerk , Data Entry Clerk, Word Processor Operator, Personal Computer Operator, and I have been the Senior Liaison/Mentor for over 4 years in the Augusta Pre-Reentry Community. I am the co-founder of Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VAPOC), and Virginia Prison Justice Network (VAPJN), and I have not had an institutional charge in almost 7 years. I have become what some would call a model prisoner, and while most of my transformation was self motivated, I realize that this is not true for most men. They need some type of incentive. As the news began to be passed down that violent offenders would be excluded, I watched as those who where ineligible immediately became bitter and an argument ensued between a violent and nonviolent offender. I stepped in to calm the dispute, but at that moment I saw the creation of another subculture akin to the one created in prison when parole was abolished in 1995 and Good Time was decreased for "all" offenders. The same I don't give a damn attitude is being created, and it will be difficult to get men to comply with treatment as a part of corrections when you have, as an example, two men who are cellmates in re-entry and one of them receives 30 days for every 30 days served and the other only receives 4.5 for every 30 days served. Both of them have been charge free for five years yet because of their offenses their efforts to rehabilitate themselves is rewarded differently. This creates another class and subculture within prison and does not further the community vibe that is sought by the VADOC in its mission to create a pro social and healing environment. The truth is, violent offenders are at times the ones who are in most need of incentives to commit to rehabilitation. When you give a man/woman extreme amounts of time with a total disregard to their ability to change and redeem themselves, you will find them living with a total disregard to the rules that govern prison, and therefore not giving two cents of care for self improvement. Yet if that man/woman is given the proper incentive and placed in the proper environment, you will see the worst of individuals change for the better. Most of them are not inherently violent people, they just committed a violent act. This is not to make light of their crime, this is just to say they are not irredeemable. Now, I understand that there are some for whom rehabilitation is grim but this is where tools like parole come into play. A person can be judged on a case by case basis that way there is not a one size fits all approach to rehabilitation. Some may have to do more to meet that mark, and some may never meet it. The question is, when an individual is sentenced and he/she has a release date, whether correction is the goal? If we are just to proceed warehousing those in prison, then by all means reach for only the low hanging fruit (non-violent offenders), and leave the others behind, but the problem of mass incarceration will not be solved. What we must understand about mass incarceration is that it is not just about the amount of people incarcerated. It is more so about the culture that is created due to that overpopulation which is a culture of error that can only be corrected by those who played the most extreme role in producing it in the first place. All offenders (violent and nonviolent) must play a role in true prison and criminal justice reform. This is the only real way towards success. No one can be left behind. This includes those who suffer from mental health, which also must be addressed for its connection to mass incarceration. By all means, SB5034 is a start (along with Fishback, and Juvenile Parole), but the push for the type of reform that is needed cannot stop there. For true social reproduction that will bring forth productive citizens who have the ability and desire to change their communities its going to take contributions from those who have taken the initiative to reform themselves and become models for others. Many men/women like unto myself are ready to take on that responsibility, but this must be realized by the lawmakers if they really want to see the dawn of a new day. Hassan Shabazz, CFJ/VAPOC & VAPJN

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