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Richard David Fishback was charged with non-capital offenses in 1997.  Parole was abolished in 1995.  He took his case to the Virginia State Supreme Court on the basis that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the abolition of parole.  He had been sentenced to 18 years. Virginia was among more than a dozen states to abolish parole in the 1990s amid a national push to crack down on crime. Virginia also lengthened sentences for some violent offenders and mandated that anyone convicted in 1995 and beyond must serve at least 85 percent of their term.  As a result, uninformed jurors during those five years gave some offenders inflated sentences, thinking they’d serve just part of their prison term before being paroled, advocates and attorneys say. Virginia is one of just a handful of states where juries decide on a sentence as well as guilt or innocence in non-death penalty cases

But while Virginia took parole off the table in 1995, judges weren’t required to inform juries about that change until 2000 when Fishback won his case -- since then juries are instructed on the abolition of parole.  So what happened to all the prisoners who, like Fishback, were sentenced by juries who did not know that parole had been abolished.  These are the "Fishback" prisoners.

Senate Bill 223 (2016), patroned by four Virginia Senators and thirteen Delegates sought to correct the errors of the past, and allow for re-sentencing of any person sentenced under the new law and truth-in-sentencing, by a jury, between 1995 and the June 9, 2000 Virginia Supreme Court decision in Fishback vs. Commonwealth. According to statistics provided to the Commission on Parole Review, by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, an estimated 471 truth-in-sentencing inmates who were sentenced by juries to the Fishback decision, received a sentence of more than 20 years.  They are still waiting for justice as Fishback bills put forward in the 2018 General Assembly have yet to pass.


The 21 Day Rule

In Virginia there is a 21 day rule which states that once your sentence has been pronounced, you have 21 days to ask for a reconsideration or modification. After that you can never ask the judge to reconsider the sentence given. In like manner, Virginia Code Section 19.2-303 provides that once your sentence is given, and you're transported to the Department of Corrections, your sentence cannot be modified. This takes away the discretionary power of judges to reconsider the sentence of a prisoner who has done all that he can do to reform himself and deserves a second chance. These two laws need to change to the point of giving discretionary power back to judges for reconsideration, especially since there has been no parole since 1994. Let's pressure the legislature to make these and other changes -- Hassan Shabazz, Augusta Correctional Center

Truth in Sentencing

I spoke on Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) as a tool of mass incarceration and some of the direct and indirect effects on our communities. TIS laws were adopted by the states in 1994 as a part of the plot to curb violent crime. As an incentive, the Federal government gave out grants to states who adopted these laws ($47 million in VA). In Virginia, parole was abolished, 85% laws were enacted (prisoners must do 85% of their sentences), and mandatory minimums were implemented which took away discretion from the judges to go below a certain amount of time. With TIS, incarceration has grown (due to warehousing) and the bill for corrections has grown astronomically (over $1billion). Truth-in-Sentencing is a thorn in the side of Virginians, it's about time that we remove it -- Hasan Shabazz, Augusta Correctional Center

The 13th Amendment

When we look at the mass incarceration machine, we must always keep in mind that at the root of it is capitalism. At the end of the day it is always someone making money at the expense of someone else, so it's about profit. It was not until the abolishment of chattel slavery that prisons became vehicles of monetary gain. Before that prisons where concentrated on reformation and actual correction. The 13th Amendment gave way to neo-slavery, which birthed such things like the convict leasing system, and cases like Ruffin v. Commonwealth, where the court held essentially that prisoners had no rights and were nothing but slaves. That has since changed through other court rulings..., but really..., has it????

The 13th Amendment states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime whereof the person shall have been duly convicted shall exist within the United States or any place subject to its jurisdiction." This infamous clause has now fallen under much public scrutiny, but what has not been said is how this Amendment is in direct violation of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nations. It states: "No on shall be held in slavery or servitude, slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms." The history of prisons as a profitable industry is rooted in the 13th Amendment, and because slavery has been deemed a crime against humanity the conflict between the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be brought to light, because didn't the U.S.A. pledge to uphold the United Nations Declaration??? -- Hassan Shabazz, Augusta Correctional Center


Political Consciousness

When it comes to prison activism the Virginia system is eons behind others it seems. The development of the politically conscious mind takes a back seat to religiosity. Faith without works is dead, and so while the Most High provides food for the birds it is not dropped in the nest. The Virginia system has given birth to "jailbirds" who seem to believe that food is going to drop into their laps. If we want changes in the laws, policies, and procedures that oppress us, then we have to get off of our perches and go get it. -- Hassan Shabaz, Augusta Correctional Center

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