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Republicans Continue Calls for Parole Board Investigation

Man seaking
Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a 2019 event. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia Republicans continue calls for an investigation of the state parole board. It’s the latest in an ongoing scandal pitting GOP lawmakers against Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.

Republicans have criticized the parole board’s release of people convicted of violent crimes from prison last year. It was part of efforts to reduce prison populations and curb the spread of COVID-19. They were particularly angry over the release of Vincent Martin, who had served 40 years at Nottoway Correctional Facility for the 1979 killing of Richmond Police Officer Michael Connors.

They called on parole board members to resign around the same time the Office of Inspector General released a report detailing what it said were violations in how the parole board handled Martin’s case. The report said the board violated state law and procedure by releasing inmates without giving proper notice to state prosecutors or to victims.

The parole board is composed of up to five members appointed by the governor. Only a limited number of individuals are eligible for parole, including those who committed their crime prior to Jan. 1, 1995.

The General Assembly set aside $250,000, at the request of Northam, to look into the “policies, process and procedures” OSIG used to investigate the board’s handling of its decision to release Martin.

Republicans called the investigation a sham, however, because it looks at what went into OSIG’s findings, not the parole board’s alleged wrongdoing.

“The Governor's office doesn't think the Parole Board did anything wrong,” said Minority Leader Todd Gilbert in a press release Monday. “It's not an investigation, it's retribution against the Inspector General for having the temerity to do his job.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch published audio Sunday of a meeting between the governor’s office and OSIG investigators who were looking into allegations about the parole board. Senior staff members in Northam’s administration questioned OSIG’s power to investigate the Virginia Parole Board at all for possible policy violations. The agency was created to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse.

Senate Republicans released a statement Monday in response to the leaked audio. 

“The misplaced priorities and distorted values expressed by members of the Northam Administration on this recording are shocking,” reads the statement.  “That they would bully the State Inspector General into abandoning the mission of his office is disgraceful,” the statement said. “The need for a truly independent investigation into this entire affair is long overdue.  We call on Senate Rules Committee Chair Locke and Speaker Filler-Corn to immediately impanel a bi-partisan joint legislative committee to investigate this matter fully and report back to the General Assembly no later than September 1.”

A report of the governor’s investigation into the OSIG probe is due June 15.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.