Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill on Thursday that limits the amount of active incarceration a court can impose over probation violations. Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill joined the governor.
“I’ll make sure I’ll be able to deliver and close every bridge I can to help fix the system because I was affected by that,” Meek Mill said.
The bill, which takes effect July 1, sets a five-year cap on probation for felonies and a one-year maximum for misdemeanors in most cases.
“Too many crimes being lengthy sentences that outweighs the severity of the offense, and that has resulted in far too many people, particularly too many people of color, in our prisons and jails,” Northam said.
“While none of these policies will end the problems of mass incarceration on their own every step forward,” the Governor said. “And the step we’re celebrating today is indeed a very important one.”
There are some exceptions to the bill’s cap on probation terms, including for those convicted of sex offenses or subject to court-ordered substance abuse treatment.
The bill doesn’t protect those who commit a new crime while on probation, but it does prevent people from being sent back to jail for their first technical violation.
The legislation outlines various examples of those violations. They include failing to notify a probation officer about changes to employment, using drugs or possessing paraphernalia, owning a firearm and leaving the state without permission.
In the case of a second violation, the bill says a person can be sentenced to prison for up to 14 days if there is no safe, less restrictive alternative.
According to Northam, in 2018, 13 percent of people admitted to Virginia’s prisons were there for technical violations. He said, in April of this year, more than 58,000 Virginians were on probation, and each one costs taxpayers an estimated $1,300 annually.
In April, Northam signed legislation restoring voting rights to felons.