Attorney General releases parole board report alleging repeated violations

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 2:02 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has released a report on the state’s parole board, including what his office describes as “significant and repeated violations of parole board policies and state law.”

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, he said the former Chair could have faced criminal charges, if not for a statute of limitations.

The investigation focused on March and April of 2020, a period in which the pace of parole decisions increased dramatically.

The report from the Attorney General said the release of more than 130 parolees violated multiple state laws, policies and procedures and disregarded the rights of victims and their families.

Governor Youngkin ordered the review when he, and Miyares, took office a year ago.

Of the 134 offenders released in March and April of 2020, Miyares said all but four were convicted of violent crimes. And some, including at least one from our area, offended again.

Miyares said the parole board failed to notify victims and their families, and they were not granted the opportunity to speak at parole hearings.

“Their lives were permanently altered and victimized all over again by a parole board that had no regard for their stories, no regard for their rights, no regard for their trauma,” Miyares said during the Richmond news conference. “Let it never happen again.”

The report focused most of its attention on the actions of Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett, alleging she falsified three parole discharge records, unlawfully suspended Virginia’s three strikes parole statute and committed repeated violations of the Parole Board policy manual.

“To be clear if there were no statute of limitations, Chair Bennett could be charged criminally for falsifying criminal records and violating court orders,” Miyares said.

Adrianne Bennett’s Attorney released the following statement Wednesday afternoon.

“The Office of Attorney General has cherry picked a time period for scrutiny which happens to have taken place during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” attorney Diane Toscano said. “In all cases of parole, Judge Bennett was but one vote of the board. This report grossly targeted her. Judge Bennett is a dedicated public servant who has served with distinction on the bench, on the parole board, and as a respected attorney in the Virginia Beach legal community for decades. No attempt to vilify her changes that.”

Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea was a part-time member of the Parole Board during the period the report covers.

We spoke with him by phone Wednesday afternoon.

“The report is what it is,” Lea said, “but I know from first-hand experience what I tried to do in those cases. And all those inmates that had been locked up, they had to meet certain criteria. And we had to be convinced, at least I did, that they would not be a danger to public safety.”

Lea said board members made their decisions individually. He told us he worked hard to make the best decisions he could with the information he was given, taking into account the wishes of victims and the requirements of public safety.

Attorney General Jason Miyares has released a 69-page report on the Virginia Parole Board, detailing what he says are significant and repeated violations of Parole Board policies and state law under former Chair Adrianne Bennett, while Democratic Governor Ralph Northam was in office. The report describes the “chaotic atmosphere surrounding a parole-granting frenzy at the Parole Board in March and April 2020, the time between when Chair Bennett was nominated for a judgeship and her investiture, and deeper look into her board’s risky practices,” says Miyares.

The investigation and final report were conducted in response to Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order 3.

Attorney General Miyares issued the following statement on the report:

“Under Chair Adrianne Bennett, the Virginia Parole Board endangered public safety and abused its power by releasing dozens of violent felons against Parole Board policies, and frequently in clear violation of a court order or Virginia law. Judge Bennett’s brazen abuse of her power put Virginians’ safety at risk so that she could promote a criminal-first, victim-last agenda without regard for victims or their safety.

“I thank the hard work of my team to compile this report and look forward to working with the General Assembly and the current Parole Board to promote trust and transparency in its actions and ensure the victims of violent crime are never again ignored, silenced, or overlooked. The reckless disregard for the law described in my office’s report must never again be repeated.”

Click here to read a fact sheet on the report.

Click here to read the full report.