Friday, February 06, 2009

With so little work, parole board needs pay cut

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Annette E. Blankenship

Blankenship is the secretary for AdvoCare Inc. and state representative for the Patrick Crusade, People Aligned To Replace Injustice and Cruelty with Knowledge, an international human rights group focused on U.S. prisons. She lives in Colonial Heights.

I have been asked by some why I believe we should be contacting General Assembly members to ask that Helen Fahey be removed from the parole board. Some do not understand why, if the governor appoints the members of the parole board, I believe it should be addressed through the legislature.

Well, this is my answer.

First, the legislature has to confirm all the governor's appointments to state boards. That includes the parole board. Legislators can choose not to confirm or reconfirm Fahey during any session. Also, they can call the parole board chair before the Senate for review. In addition, the legislature has to approve the budget for board salaries and operating funds.

In 1995, when truth in sentencing was passed, all of the more than 20,000 prisoners in Virginia were under the parole system, just about all of them going up for parole hearings every year. Now, there are fewer than 9,000 prisoners who are still eligible for parole. Many are getting three-year deferrals, so the parole board reviews those cases only once every three years. And most, they claim, are serious violent offenders who should not ever receive parole.

It is obvious that the parole board's workload is cut to a fraction of what it was in 1995, yet members' salaries have continued to grow to an astounding amount, more than $100,000 a year.

The legislature has to approve the budget, so why has it not cut parole board salaries to reflect the decrease in workload? This question should be asked of the legislators.

We should be asking legislators to not reconfirm Fahey and to make her account for why her board continues to ask for increases in their budget and pay when their workload has dramatically decreased.

We should be asking the legislators to reduce parole board salaries in this tough economic time when programs are being cut and members of the general public are suffering severe economic blows.

In every letter, call, e-mail, fax or other communication to legislators, we should be asking them to at least cut the parole board salaries to under $50,000 to help with the budget crisis and economic recovery.

If so many Virginians are facing pay cuts, reduced hours and even layoffs, why do parole board members get to have increased salaries for less work? It is similar to the executives nationwide who are getting bonuses when they have to come to the government (the public) for bailouts.

Why does the parole board chairwoman get to have increased pay with a constantly reduced workload while she can prance around the General Assembly (notably only when called to task) wearing designer outfits and a fur stole at the same time I have to struggle to keep the bills paid and buy groceries for my son and household? It is similar to executives traveling on private jets to ask for handouts.

If our legislators are so proud of truth in sentencing and do not plan to reinstate parole, why do they continue to fund enormous salaries for parole board members?

We should be outraged. I am.

Tell the government executive VIPs to take a pay cut, and let's start with the parole board members.

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