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Virginia AG Says Former Parole Board Chair Violated Law in Release of Violent Offenders

According to Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, the former chair of the Virginia Parole Board, Adrianne Bennett, broke numerous laws and policies when she released over 100 violent criminals in 2020 and is only avoiding criminal charges herself because the one-year statute of limitations has expired.

“If there were no statute of limitations, Chair Bennett could be charged … criminally for falsifying official records and violating court orders,” Miyares said in a news conference Wednesday.

Miyares published a 69-page report on the Virginia Parole Board detailing considerable violations of Parole Board policies and state law under Bennett’s leadership in March and April 2020 (pdf).

Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order in January 2022 authorizing the office of the attorney general (OAG) to conduct the investigation into the parole board under former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration.

The OAG report found that during those two months, Bennett authorized the release of 134 prisoners, nearly all of whom had committed violent crimes. Only four of the prisoners released were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

Every Virginian was put at risk because many of those who were paroled were at a high risk of reoffending, Miyares said.

“The Attorney General’s investigation revealed a staggering amount of wrongdoing from the Parole Board and Chairwoman Bennett,” Youngkin said in a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday. “The clear violations led to attacks on victims, the release of 130 violent criminals and the undermining of trust in our judicial system.”

Bennett is now serving as a juvenile court judge in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Her attorney, Diane Toscano, criticized the OAG for singling out her client.

“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,” Toscano said in a statement to WDBJ. “In all cases of parole, Judge Bennett was but one vote of the board. This report grossly targeted her.”

However, the OAG report contends that the prisoner releases during that time period had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These offenders were not released due to COVID-19 and the Parole Board was not given authority to release offenders due to the pandemic. Instead, they were released due to the traceable actions of one person: then Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett,” the OAG said.

Miyares said the parole board failed to contact the victims and their families and that by law, victims should have been allowed to speak at the prisoners’ parole hearings. Additionally, the OAG found that the board violated Virginia law 66 times in the spring of 2020 by failing to notify local prosecutors of inmates’ releases.

The report also found that near the end of her tenure with the parole board, Bennett unilaterally released 137 parolees from supervision, most of whom had committed capital or first-degree murder. She also “falsified three parole discharge records for three first-degree murderers” in violation of state law, the OAG said.

The Virginia Parole Board controversy started in 2020 when several victims, their families, and their attorneys began to criticize the parole board’s decisions and the lack of proper notification before going ahead with the releases.

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