Second Look Sentencing

House Bill 2962 could help release many incarcerated West Virginians

What is Second Look Sentencing?

The Sentencing Project is a national group advocating for effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.

Their website contains the report A Second Look at Injustice, written by Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D.

Per the Sentencing Project, there were more than 200,000 people in U.S. prisons serving life sentences in 2020. That number is more than were in prison with any sentence in 1970. Nearly half of the life-sentenced population is Black. Nearly one-third is 55 or older.

“Legal experts recommend taking a second look at prison sentences after people have served 10 to 15 years, to ensure that sentences reflect society’s evolving norms and knowledge,” Ghandnoosh wrote.

Ghandnoosh noted that criminological research has established that longer prison sentences are counterproductive to public safety.

“Many people serving long sentences, including for a violent crime, no longer pose a public safety risk when they have aged out of crime. Long sentences are of limited deterrent value and are costly, because of the higher cost of imprisoning the elderly,” Ghandnoosh writes.

The following Second Look Sentencing Acts were spotlighted by Ghandnoosh:

  • California’s 2018 law (Assembly Bill 2942) allows district attorneys to initiate resentencing.
  • Washington, DC’s Second Look Amendment Act (2020) allows those who committed crimes as emerging adults — under age 25 — to petition for resentencing after 15 years of imprisonment.
  • New York State’s Elder Parole bill would allow people aged 55 and older who have served 15 or more years in prison to receive a parole hearing.

West Virginia House Bill 2962

House Bill 2962, the Second Look Sentencing Act, was introduced by Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, on Jan. 24. A similar bill was also introduced by Young last year, but it did not make it out of committee.

HB 2962 states that West Virginia judges may consider and modify a prison sentence that is more than 10 years if:

A person has served at least 10 years of their sentence; and the court finds that: (1) The defendant is not a danger to any person or community; or (2) the defendant presents no credible risk of criminal conduct; or (3) the defendant demonstrates a readiness for reentry; and (4) the interests of justice warrant a sentence modification. Individuals granted a sentence modification shall remain under supervised release for no more than five years following their release from prison. The court shall state on the record the reasons for granting or denying a sentence modification. There is a presumption of release for a defendant who is 50 years or older on the date of application for resentencing.

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