Petition for modification of sentence; eligibility, procedures. (SB842)

Introduced By

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) with support from co-patrons Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon), and Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond)


Passed Committee
Passed House
Passed Senate
Signed by Governor
Became Law


Petition for modification of sentence; eligibility; procedures. Provides a petition process for a person serving a sentence for any conviction or a combination of any convictions who remains incarcerated in a state or local correctional facility and meets certain criteria to petition the circuit court that entered the original judgment or order to (i) suspend the unserved portion of such sentence or run the unserved portion of such sentence concurrently with another sentence, (ii) place such person on probation for such time as the court shall determine, or (iii) otherwise modify the sentence imposed. Read the Bill »


Bill Has Failed


12/28/2022Prefiled and ordered printed; offered 01/11/23 23103532D
12/28/2022Referred to Committee on the Judiciary
01/25/2023Impact statement from DPB (SB842)
01/25/2023Reported from Judiciary (8-Y 6-N) (see vote tally)
01/25/2023Rereferred to Finance and Appropriations
02/01/2023Senate committee, floor amendments and substitutes offered
02/01/2023Reported from Finance and Appropriations with amendments (13-Y 3-N) (see vote tally)
02/02/2023Constitutional reading dispensed (40-Y 0-N) (see vote tally)
02/03/2023Read second time
02/03/2023Reading of amendments waived
02/03/2023Committee amendments agreed to
02/03/2023Engrossed by Senate as amended SB842E
02/03/2023Printed as engrossed 23103532D-E
02/06/2023Read third time and passed Senate (24-Y 15-N) (see vote tally)
02/08/2023Impact statement from DPB (SB842E)
02/09/2023Placed on Calendar
02/09/2023Read first time
02/09/2023Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
02/14/2023Assigned Courts sub: Subcommittee #1
02/15/2023Subcommittee recommends passing by indefinitely (8-Y 0-N)
02/22/2023Left in Courts of Justice


Fred Woehrle writes:

This bill is a very bad, dangerous idea. It is much, much more extreme version of a bill introduced in January 2022 that passed the state senate but then failed in the House, for good reason. It would allow even serial killers to be released, even if they do not satisfy specified "behavioral standards" for release.

That earlier less extreme bill (2022 SB 378), was rejected, for good reason, by the House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee, on February 28, 2022. It would have allowed any offender -- even a serial killer -- to seek a reduction of his sentence after 15 years in prison, if the offender generally behaved while in prison, or the court or the prosecutor waived the good behavior requirement.

This bill, SB 842, is more extreme. It does not even require recent good behavior by an inmate seeking release, increasing the likelihood that dangerous inmates will be released.

In 2022, CNS News explained why even the earlier, less-extreme bill was risky and a bad idea, could increase crime in Virginia, and would lead to arbitrary differences in how inmates are treated, based on the county or city where they were convicted:

This bill could also result in taxpayers paying millions of dollars to hire lawyers to bring unsuccessful petitions to reduce a sentence -- an unnecessary expense. it contains language stating that if certain minimal criteria are met, "the court shall appoint counsel to represent the petitioner. An attorney appointed to represent a petitioner pursuant to this subsection shall be compensated at the same rate as an attorney providing representation on a felony case pursuant to § 19.2-163." So taxpayers will be on the hook for petitions that clog the courts and serve no purpose.

Fred Woehrle writes:

This bill could allow violent criminals to be released without any finding that they are no longer a danger to the victim or the victim's family, or to the community. It is much more extreme than other "second-look" legislation, such as the District of Columbia's. The District of Columbia's second-look law requires a finding "that the defendant is not a danger to the safety of any person or the community" before a sentence can be reduced. (See D.C. Code § 24–403.03(a)(2)).

SB 842 doesn't. It doesn't require any such finding, or any such safeguards to protect victims or public safety.

Even the pro-defendant D.C. Council requires such a finding. So surely Virginia, which has a reputation for being more anti-crime than D.C., should. Virginia has a crime rate only one-fifth DC's, partly because Virginia was historically tougher on crime than DC was. Virginia should remain tougher on crime than D.C. rather than being softer on crime.

Fred Woehrle writes:

This bill is not only dangerous, but also ironic. On the internet, people who support SB 842 do so because they say "everyone deserves a second chance," even the worst killers and rapists.

But most inmates doing more than 15 years have already had their second, third, fourth, and fifth chances -- the typical released state prison inmate has five prior convictions, according to Rafael Mangual, who studies the criminal-justice system at the Manhattan Institute:

SB 842 would let inmates petition for release no matter how many times they have already been convicted, or how many convictions they have. That seems like an abuse of the legal system, as well as a risk to public safety.

Tammie Lawson writes:

I support SB-842 this bill would allow the opportunity for incarcerated individuals who are worthy of a second chance to go before the court and plead their second chance, not all people are worthy of second chances. I believe in forgiveness and I believe that people mature and change with age and with age comes wisdom. We say we are the Department of Corrections yet we are failing to see the result that DOC has corrected or rehabilitated our people if we never give them a second chance. I’m the product of a second chance, God changed my life in 2004 and when let out of prison in 2005 I was able to demonstrate what rehabilitation by DOC really looks like I have also met many returning citizens who was given their second chance and they are very successful men and women. Who are we to sit in a seat of judgement and throw people away like they are trash! Did I say Trash? Even trash is recycled but we don’t think humans can rehabilitate and change. The new study’s on the human brain prove men an women do mature with age. How can we say we’re the land of the free when we incarcerate more than all countries combined? Legal Slavery, manufacturing Criminals for profits . Doc is the world’s second largest industry. We need to focus more on second chances because the fact of the matter is we live in a cruel evil world haneous crime’s are committed every second in the USA and they are not in prisons. They are the neighbors next door or down the street It’s time that we the people forgive and give back freedoms to those who have earned their freedoms I support this bill and if you have any heart and believe in God or Jesus you would believe in second chances

Tammie Lawson writes:

This is a wonderful way to show that Virginia lives up to it’s slogan- Virginia is for lovers, we love our people and we forgive even the worst people and if they have proven to be worthy they should have a second chance at getting it right.

Tammie Lawson writes:

If this bill in not passed it will cost taxpayers millions Or trillions of dollars to house elderly sick people who have reached ages with serious health problems they are not a harm to our communities in anyway they can barely walk , housing the elderly is expensive and will increase debt in Virginia so deep that we will never see the light DOC is already understaffed and overcrowded let’s get Second Chances in Virginia

Maria McCall writes:

I support and promote the passing of SB842. This bill is a great start to placing trust back into our justice system. Virginia continues to hold viable lives in a corrections system that is comparable to modern day slave/ concentration camps. Why continue to hold on to a person that has gained skills that are of great use to their communities. Incarcerated men and women have families that need them at home for emotional and financial support. They can't be present if we don't let them be present. The VDOC is priding itself on the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals that will never be able to show anyone outside of VDOC what they have achieved. What kind of incentive to change is that?
As a taxpayer, I don't want to continue to have to pay for people to have all these classes and gain all these skills and never see the fruits of their labor or the fruits of my tax dollars. The Virginia Justice System's policy of tough on crime is an excuse to continue to operate as a slave state, catch them, hold them, and work them till death, all the while torturing them with false hopes and dreams of a life on the other side. Nearly half of the Virginia prison population is African American and Hispanic decent, and the documentation shows that these populations are also getting the longest correctional sentences. The Native American population as a whole is in crisis, we are incarcerating them at a rate only second to the African American population. With no conjugal visitation for families to spend meaningful time together in Virgina, we are creating angry people not only in the inside of those fences, but also outside those fences. We are creating angry children that are growing up without the support of incarcerated parents, and they are growing up to be the new incarcerated population because of the lack of parental guidance. The younger incarcerated population are not getting a chance to live, reproduce, or feel what it is like to have a family of their own. This is genocide. Now to be devil's advocate, I'll be the first to say that there are some criminals who will never be able to live outside of the correctional confinement. But they are the selective few, and a majority of the incarcerated will go on to live meaningful and productive lives. It is time for Virginia to stop talking about change and be the change. Pass this bill into law.

Fred Woehrle writes:

This bill would not only increase violent crime by undermining deterrence, it would also release some inmates who go on to commit more violent crimes. It is modeled on a DC law that has released inmates who went on to commit more crimes.
That law, the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, "has led to 135 defendants being released early, of whom 28 have been rearrested," according to the Daily Caller and the Washington Post. See James Lynch, "Man Who Raped 3 Women And Forced Victims To Dig Their Own Graves Seeks Early Prison Release Under DC Law," Daily Caller, February 1, 2023 (stating that "The law has led to 135 defendants being released early, of whom 28 have been rearrested") (available at, citing Keith Alexander, "Man who raped three women when he was 16 seeks early release from prison," Washington Post, February 1, 2023 (containing the same statistic), available at . This Second Look bill should be rejected, because it would undermine public safety.

Fred Woerhle writes:

The article I cited from the Washington Post now says that 16 of the released inmates were rearrested -- previously, it said 28 of the 135 inmates released under DC's Second Look law had been rearrested. Keith Alexander, "Man who raped three women when he was 16 seeks early release from prison," Washington Post, February 1, 2023, available at .

The Daily Caller article still says 28 of the released inmates were rearrested.

It also looks like this bill was recently amended, to make it somewhat less dangerous:

Kimberly Trusty writes:

I support the bill, people do change and no one is perfect, everyone deserves a second chance at life especially if they meet certain citera, and if they have been on there for years and years, without be able to touch or see family members and their children. You never know how this may affect a person, but I do believe that they should have access to counseling and be prepared for the real world and have someone to help them find jobs and get access to whatever they need. We all are human, and we are not perfect cause if we were, we wouldn't be here on earth. I'm all for the bill to be passed some of these inmates have dreams and want to give back to the community and even help other young men and wemon who made need that insight and someone to talk to who has had a experience. Please consider passing this bill

Amanda Chandler writes:

I support this bill. There are so many that are incarcerated on false charges. Prisons for profit. Got to keep them full inorder to earn their $$$. My loved one is in on false charges. The county that found him guilty, can't even find his DNA that HE provided! And WHY in his transripts did I read the judge tell the jury to "Not come back until you FIND him guilty"???? So many have similar stories. Most cannot afford attorney's. The judicial system is corrupt and NEEDS to be FIXED!!!!

Sonya Berrios writes:

I'm in support of SB842. Please DO not allow fear to cloud your judgment and do what is right.....Yes, many of these men and women have made mistakes. They have spent many years in the prison system serving that debt to society. Yet some have been able to turn their life around for good. If they meet the criteria set within the guidelines in the piece of legislation why would you NOT want them to have to be the ability to have a "Second Chance"?
The state's restrictive release practices block the exit for thousands of individuals, costing the state including (taxpayers) hundreds of millions of dollars. I no longer want as a taxpayer to continue to pay to house someone in prison who now has the skills and ability to provide for themselves and their family. Please pass this bill into law.
Below is a piece of data to help with the scare of recidivism and how Virginia remains the lowest in the country.

Fred Woehrle writes:

This bill is dangerous partly because it will release some offenders who go on to reoffend again.

On the internet, supporters falsely claim that legislation like this only releases reformed inmates who have been rehabilitated, and that rates of reoffending are near zero. Above, a commenter speaks of releasing inmates who "turn their life around for good."

But even though legislation of this sort is very recent, giving released inmates little time to reoffend, some inmates released under legislation like this have reoffended already. A similar DC law (that is limited to inmates who committed their crimes at below age 25, unlike SB 842) has already "led to 135 defendants being released early, of whom 28 have been rearrested," according to the Daily Caller. (See James Lynch, "Man Who Raped 3 Women And Forced Victims To Dig Their Own Graves Seeks Early Prison Release Under DC Law," Daily Caller, February 1, 2023).

Those inmates were rearrested even though many of them were released just in the last year.

Over time, those reoffense rates will rise. Agencies usually measure reoffense rates over substantial periods of time such as 8 years, not the brief period since progressive bastions like DC and Oregon adopted the "second look" laws on which SB 842 is modeled. For example, the U.S. Sentencing Commission looked at recidivism rates over an 8 year period after inmates were released. Last year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission issued a report finding that over an eight-year period, violent offenders returned to crime at a 63.8% rate. Even among those over age 60, 25.1% of violent offenders were rearrested.

Supporters of this bill also depict it as being very narrow, like a way of giving pardons or clemency to the rare offender who deserves it. But DC's second look law has released many inmates who no governor anywhere would ever pardon, given the gravity of their crime plus the possibility that they will reoffend if released. Over 80 percent of inmates asking to be released have been released -- 135 out of 164 petitions. "So far, D.C. judges have ordered the release of 135 people under the law....Twenty-nine requests were denied, according to the data. Of those released, the majority had been convicted of murder." (See Keith Alexander, "Man who raped three women when he was 16 seeks early release from prison," Washington Post, February 1, 2023.)

That's in the little tiny District of Columbia, which has less than 8% of Virginia's population and fewer inmates with long sentences. Virginia could have thousands of inmates seeking release. Indeed, the Fiscal Impact statement for SB 842 says "there were 4,865 state-responsible (SR) inmates who meet the length of stay criteria set forth in this bill and would be eligible to file a petition for sentence modification."

Imagine 1,000 killers and rapists being released from prison.

Virginia's recidivism rate could be much higher than DC's, because DC's law is limited to youthful offenders (who are more able to be rehabilitated, and more likely to age out of crime), and this Virginia bill covers inmates of all ages (who may be more hardened criminals with long rap sheets). This bill, unlike DC's law, is not limited to inmates who committed their crime below age 25.

Supporters of this bill (such as Senator Petersen) have analogized it to an expanded pardon process. But DC's experience shows that it would release a substantial fraction of the affected prison population, unlike even the most robust pardon or clemency process. It's the wholesale restoration of parole in all but name, but without the safeguards and consistency a parole statute would afford.

Maria McCall writes:

This bill must become law. Virginia has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the United States. Virginia also has inmate lawsuits from abuse and neglect, civil rights violations, also wrongful convictions. Virginia is awarding massive amounts of money, supplied by us taxpayers, to correct Virginia wrongs. Why continue to incarcerate individuals that should they have been convicted of the same crime 10-20 years later they would have pulled less time and been home already? Why continue to incarcerate individuals that were they of their racial counterpart, would have pulled less time and already been home? What would Virginia gain from continuing the disparities of our state correctional system? Nothing, we as Virginians' gain nothing. Passing this bill into law would put Virginia at the forefront of change, we need this. Passing this bill would not let all the rapists and murders go free, because passing this bill doesn't give up Virginia's stance of being tough on crime. We need to start humanizing all humans, not just the ones we choose to. We cannot continue to treat an inmate convicted in 2020 different than an inmate convicted 2002. I personally know of a case where someone in 2002 was sentenced to 30 years for a robbery charge where no one was hurt, yet in 2022 that same charged carried a 1-year sentence and someone died. How fair is that? Currently we have murderers serving less time than that same robbery charge from 2002. How fair is that? I don't know about anyone else, but from what I read now, an inmate has a bigger chance of getting raped and exploited by the staff that are hired to ensure our safety, then we do on the streets. How fair is that? How can we as decent humans justify that giving $21,300 a year for someone to survive on is OK? A person in Virginia could spend that in food alone if they were to follow current nutritional guidelines. Virginia has so much to gain from passing this bill into law. Without stating the obvious good that will come from this law, what would you do as a Virginia taxpayer with your $21,300 a year? We cannot continue to compare other states and territories with Virginia, because they are not Virginia. They have their own laws and statistics that really don't compare to ours. Yes, a crime is a crime, but that crime in DC or Wisconsin doesn't have the same weight as it does if committed in Virginia. We have to stop the disparities, stop the inconsistencies, stop the abuse and neglect, stop the stereotyping, stop the slavery, stop the genocide, stop the making humans live in poverty, stop the torture. Virginia needs to stop everything and pass SB842 into law because as a Virginian, I am tired of paying for someone else's mistakes, criminal and not.

Velnita Harmon writes:

I support the bill. My brother has been incarcerated for over 20 years since he was 19. It was his first run in with the law. This bill would certainly help him. It would also help him to get back into the lives of his daughters and meet his grandchildren. Hold them and get to know them in person and not over the phone.

Cherie Lent writes:

I support SB842. Many offenders are locked up at a young age which has been shown to be before the mind has fully developed. This bill allows time for the offender to mature and to show a judge their growth and maturity. I trust that a judge is not going to set free a serial killer as some would have us believe. I think it’s time to let the judges do their jobs without being bound by mandatory legislations. Let’s stop throwing people away and warehousing them, let’s start rehabilitating them and giving them a future to work towards.

Derrick Majette jr writes:

I support this bill it's a common sense bill it will coast the tax payer less.u are housing people that have been incarcerated for 15an20or more years people are not the same person at45 years of age that they was at 19 years of age the think that it's unfair you have people that been locked up for over 25 years an have not kill a sole.we have to do better when it comes rehabilitation.we Lock up and literally through away the key .

Camille Clifford writes:

I support this bill. My fiance has been incarcerated for 17 plus year for a mistake he made when he was 19. Today he has completed many career development classes, obtained his GED, took college course for graphics design and on the way to his Associates Degree. He has tutored other inmates to help them to achieve goals and aspirations; I can go on. The point is people are not perfect....they make mistakes and they can change. "Everyone deserves a 2nd chance!"