A Jan. 2 Metro story reported that persons convicted of violent crimes in Virginia serve much longer prison sentences than they did before parole was abolished. It compared Virginia statistics with statistics from Maryland, which has not abolished parole, but managed to miss the most important fact:
The violent crime rate in Maryland is 922 per 100,000; Virginia's rate is 349 per 100,000, according to the "Crime in the Commonwealth Report" (1988-1998). This means that Marylanders are more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime as Virginians. In addition, Virginia's violent crime rate is almost half the national average of 643 per 100,000.
Before abolition of parole in Virginia, murderers served an average of 10 years; they now serve an average of 46 years. Rapists served four years before the parole abolition; they now serve 14 years. Armed robbers served four years before the end of parole; now they serve an average of nine years. With statistics such as these, it is no surprise that before the abolition of parole, three out of four violent crimes in Virginia were committed by repeat offenders who had served on average only one-third of their sentences.
A compelling research project discussed in a Dec. 9 op-ed column ["Crime in Two Counties"] compared Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which have similar economic and social profiles but different incarceration policies because the former is in Maryland and the latter in Virginia. The Maryland county had a violent crime rate of 2.4 times that of the Virginia county. The researchers concluded that the only explanation was that Virginia had abolished parole and was overall tougher on criminals than Maryland.
When then governor-elect George Allen asked me and former U.S. attorney general William P. Barr to head his commission to plan for abolishing parole, he gave us a simple goal: Make sentences for the violent offenders substantially longer so that they will be in prison and unable to repeat their crime. Five years later, 15,000 violent defendants have received much longer sentences than under the old system. Because Virginia abolished parole, our state has become a safer place.
-- Richard Cullen
is a former Virginia state attorney general.