Commentary

What ‘second look’ legislation means to incarcerated individuals in Virginia

February 18, 2022 12:05 am

(Alex Potemkin/Getty Images)

By Quadaire Patterson

Right now, as an incarcerated person in Virginia, I do not have a lot of options when it comes to obtaining any form of relief from a lengthy prison sentence – and it’s definitely not based on my own willingness to rehabilitate.

Incarcerated people are housed for years and years with little to motivate them into productive and meaningful rehabilitation. We are asked to merely sit quietly and wait until the time is served and there is little emphasis on correcting behaviors. We are asked to maintain employment for a majority of our time, stay charge-free and it is not until the final years of our sentence that we are instructed or able to take re-entry programs and the like. Still, there are many of us in here that need that extra bit of motivation, reason and cause to push us. There are many of us who have taken measures to earn the opportunity for a second look.

This year in Virginia, there is a bill on the table to implement a policy called “second look.” This would allow for the incarcerated population to petition the court for possible resentencing based on who they are today.

There are more than 30,000 people in the Virginia Department of Corrections’ custody, so a petitioner must meet requirements before they can submit. A person who was 25 years of age or younger at time of conviction is required to serve at least 10 years of their sentence, while those over the age of 25 must at least 15 years. The structuring of the age requirement is based on scientific findings concerning full brain development and aging out of crime.

The second, and more controversial element of this bill, is about maintaining a near perfect record for your past five years of incarceration. It states in the bill that an incarcerated individual cannot have been found guilty of any major institutional infractions (e.g. assaulting an officer), and only one minor infraction (200 series, e.g. unauthorized area) within five years prior to petitioning. You must also be at GCA (good behavior) level 1 at the time of application. This is the cause of some criminal justice advocates’ concerns. They believe that the behavioral requirements are too strict, unreasonable and even near impossible to achieve by most prisoners.

My personal thought on the matter is that it’s a little shameful for advocates on the outside to assume, that given the opportunity, we, on the inside, could not possibly maintain a charge free status for five years – even if our freedom depended on it. 

Many arguments provided by advocates suggest that corrupt correctional officers and staff will take ample opportunity to excessively charge prisoners, solely to ruin their chance at petitioning. Though their arguments cannot completely be disregarded, I find it rather negligent to attribute that much weight to supervision only. I have experienced COs and staff members who do not always have the best intentions and fall short of standards that should be expected of professionals in charge of human lives. But to the contrary, these individuals are far and few in between. They are probably as common as the overly obnoxious boss, supervisor, co-worker, etc. that you may experience on the outside.

I, myself, understand how hard it is to maintain a perfect behavioral record in prison. Early in my incarceration, I received numerous charges, most of which were not minor infractions. But a “second look” law did not exist for me then. There was not much to help focus and motivate a better pattern of behavior. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way. After seeing my life heading in an unwanted direction, I had to take charge of my own rehabilitation.

When I first entered the prison system, I didn’t have a high school diploma. Not only have I acquired my GED, I’ve also been working hard to fulfill my college-level education goals. Currently, I’m taking print-based correspondence courses at Ohio University. I’m working to obtain an associate degree in social sciences. I have been mentoring young men for over 10 years, helping them find their own spiritual journeys, tutoring various subjects and motivating them to seek higher education. For years, I brainstormed this very platform to help showcase the brilliance of people incarcerated and was given an opportunity to bring the organization Brilliance Behind Bars to fruition, going strong for two years.

People grow, people change and people can be rehabilitated, even when the odds are against them, and rules seem petty. I see this bill as an opportunity to push people in the right direction, make for more public safety in and outside of the prison walls, and bring us some hope for a brighter future. 

Quadaire Patterson, an inmate at Lawrenceville Correctional Center, is serving a 20-year sentence at for an armed robbery conviction. He is an author at Brilliance Behind Bars, a website dedicated to humanizing incarcerated people through their art and literature. 

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