Prompt: Introducing Second Look

Thousands of us in the prison system are serving lengthy sentences, some even without any hope of making it out of prison alive. Since 1995, several states, including Virginia, removed parole from their legal system, deepening the prison as a pit of despair. For the last 25 years, people (largely black and brown) have been unfairly profiled and incarcerated for sentences often doubling (or even tripling) the age when they received that sentence. Currently, there are over 53,000 people in America who are serving life without parole, and every 1 out of 4 are serving sentences of 15 years or more.

More locally, there is not much incentive to encourage a large portion of the population in here to seek better. Seriously, what is a 20-year old young man to think when he receives a 30 year sentence? Even with the updated good time bill, sentences of 30 years are more than likely not eligible for 65% (15 days of good time off your sentence for every 30 days time served).

So – what is a better motivating force for a young man who is now getting a good look down the dark tunnel he faces, if he continues with the pattern of choice he made to get locked up? I can tell you this, it’s NOT getting out when he’s 45 after serving a 25 and a half year bid (and that’s with no disciplinary infractions), a GED, and a trade certificate to go along with the permanent scar of ex-felony attached to his record!

The answer to many questions concerning rehabilitation, relief, and incentives thereof, is prospective legislation called Second Look.

‘Second Look’ is an additional route to a second chance, differentiating from parole, as it involves petitioning the court for a sentence modification. It proposes that after a defined period of time (like 10 years or so) served on an extensive sentence (I.e. 20 years or more), people behind bars can petition the court of the district they were sentenced in. There is even a chance that your sentence can be reduced down to time served. Now, this isn’t automatic. The draft propose that a board of more than the judge who sentenced you has a say in it. The prosecutor and prison staff might even be able to chime in on your potential time reduction. Ideally, you would be able to show rehabilitation, such as education, infraction-free, programs completed and trades obtained.

Second Look is already federal and versions of this legislation have been written, reviewed, and even passed in several states, most recently Texas. Now, in 2021, advocate groups are pushing to make it a reality in Virginia. It goes without saying, that such a law isn’t going to pass without a fight.

Prompt: After reading the topic above, write an essay (at least two paragraphs in length, if you can, please). answering some, one, or all of the questions below.

Are there any problems you can foresee with legislation like Second Look?

Do you have any ideas to improve this proposal? if so, what are they?

If this became law, how would this effect you? How would it affect the system?

What are some of the pros and cons you see with Second Look versus parole?

-Q. Patterson

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