Gov. Northam appoints new vice-chair to Virginia Parole Board, announces new clemency initiatives

Posted at 6:47 PM, May 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 21:44:00-04

RICHMOND, Va. - Gov. Ralph Northam announced the appointment of a new vice-chair for the state's parole board and new initiatives to streamline the clemency process.

Northam has announced the appointment of Lethia Hammond as vice-chair of the Virginia Parole Board.

“Lethia Hammond’s vast experience in the criminal justice system will strengthen the Virginia Parole Board and its important work,” said Gov. Northam. “Building a stronger, fairer, and more inclusive Commonwealth means giving Virginians who have paid their debt to society and a second chance. Together with the appointment of Lethia Hammond, these concrete steps will bolster our efforts to create a more equitable and accessible clemency process and drastically reduce the backlog of pardon requests.”

The Virginia Parole Board was established by law in 1942 and is made up of up to five members appointed by the governor.

The parole board has the authority to grant parole, to deny parole, to detain parole violators and to revoke parole.

In addition to reviewing parole cases, the Virginia Parole Board investigates and makes recommendations to the governor on pardon applications.

To date, Gov. Northam has granted nearly 300 pardons, more than any previous Virginia governor in recent history. According to Northam's administration, he is on track to grant more pardons than all previous governors combined.

The administration is launching a redesigned pardons website and a new petition portal that will allow individuals to submit pardon petitions electronically, check the status of a pending petition and provide support or opposition for a petition.

“The launch of this new website and petition portal furthers the Governor’s commitment to transparency and good government for the people of Virginia,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson. “Enabling Virginians to submit their petitions online also improves efficiency of the clemency process, allowing pardons staff to spend less time opening and sorting mail and more time reviewing petitions.”

An advocate says the new policies are good steps, but think more needs to happen in the future.

"I think they are a welcome change, but probably not enough to really fundamentally change our pardoning clemency process," said Bryan Kennedy, the Policy Director ofJustice Forward Virginia. The organization is part of the Virginia Redemption Project, which has sought to connect people seeking pardons with lawyers.

Northam is also eliminating the costly and confusing requirement that petitioners obtain copies of their criminal history.

"Anything that can streamline a relatively difficult and complicated process is definitely helpful," said Kennedy.

Individuals petitioning for clemency often lack the time, money or resources to obtain this information from Virginia State Police. It is standard practice to collect new copies of criminal histories on all petitioners during the clemency review process, and this policy change will streamline operations and increase equity.