RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the appointment of Lethia Hammond as Vice-Chair of the Virginia Parole Board and unveiled several new initiatives to streamline the clemency process, including a redesigned pardons website and petition portal.
“Lethia Hammond’s vast experience in the criminal justice system will strengthen the Virginia Parole Board and its important work,” said Governor Northam. “Building a stronger, fairer, and more inclusive Commonwealth means giving Virginians who have paid their debt to society and a second chance. Together with the appointment of Lethia Hammond, these concrete steps will bolster our efforts to create a more equitable and accessible clemency process and drastically reduce the backlog of pardon requests.”
Ms. Hammond comes from a long career in public service and prior to her appointment served as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Botetourt County where she handled all phases of trial in General District, Juvenile and Domestic Relations, and Circuit Court proceedings. She was the designated Juvenile and Domestic Relations prosecutor, and frequently served as a special prosecutor in jurisdictions across the Commonwealth.
In addition to her work as a career prosecutor, Ms. Hammond previously served as an attorney for the Botetourt County Department of Social Services. She is a member of the Western Regional Child Fatality Review Team, the Blue Ridge Prevention Coalition, and the Multidisciplinary (Child Abuse and Sexual Assault) Task Force. She has an extensive background in public policy having served as Director of Government Affairs for the Virginia Horse Center, Grant Administrator for Alleghany County, Director of Virginia Citizens for a Sound Economy, Mayor of the Town of Iron Gate, and a Governor’s Fellow. Ms. Hammond is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.
“I am honored to have this opportunity to serve the Commonwealth,” said Lethia Hammond. “The Virginia Parole Board has a significant responsibility to ensure our criminal justice system balances public safety with fairness and rehabilitation. I look forward to working with the Board members to implement best practices that will build trust and increase transparency in the Board’s operations.”
“I am pleased to add Lethia Hammond’s voice to the Virginia Parole Board,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “From her role as Mayor of the Town of Iron Gate to her work with the Botetourt County Department of Social Services and her extensive time as a prosecutor, her diverse background and experience will bring a fresh perspective to the Board.”
The Virginia Parole Board was established by law in 1942 and is composed of up to five members appointed by the Governor. The General Assembly gives the Parole Board authority to grant parole, to deny parole, to detain parole violators, and to revoke parole. While the General Assembly abolished discretionary parole in Virginia for felonies committed after January 1, 1995, some offenders are eligible for parole consideration if they meet certain criteria.
In 2000, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in Fishback v. Commonwealth that juries must be told parole had been abolished. Last year, Governor Northam proposed, and the General Assembly passed, a law that makes certain individuals sentenced by juries between 1995 and 2000 eligible for parole consideration. Governor Northam has instructed the Virginia Parole Board to continue prioritizing these individuals.
In addition to reviewing parole cases, the Virginia Parole Board investigates and makes recommendations to the governor on pardon applications. A pardon provides unique relief to individuals with exceptional circumstances who have demonstrated rehabilitation. If an individual feels they are able to provide substantial evidence of such exceptional circumstances, they may petition the governor for a pardon. The governor can grant three types of pardons: simple, conditional, or absolute. A pardon does not remove the crime from an individual’s record.
To date, Governor Northam has granted nearly 300 pardons, more than any previous Virginia governor in recent history. He is on track to grant more pardons than all previous governors combined.
Over the last two administrations, the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth has received a major influx of pardon petitions. This surge, coupled with the thousands of petitions that were already pending review when former Governor Terry McAuliffe took office in 2014, and the thorough and extensive review process these petitions require, has meant that most petitions do not receive a decision for several years.
Governor Northam remains committed to tackling the backlog of pardon petitions and has recently dedicated additional staff and resources to ensure those seeking clemency receive efficient consideration. The Northam Administration is also launching a redesigned pardons website and a new petition portal that will enable individuals to submit pardon petitions electronically, check the status of a pending petition, and provide support or opposition for a petition.
“The launch of this new website and petition portal furthers the Governor’s commitment to transparency and good government for the people of Virginia,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson. “Enabling Virginians to submit their petitions online also improves efficiency of the clemency process, allowing pardons staff to spend less time opening and sorting mail and more time reviewing petitions.”
Governor Northam will also eliminate the costly and confusing requirement that petitioners obtain copies of their criminal history. Individuals petitioning for clemency often lack the time, money, or resources to obtain this information from Virginia State Police. It is standard practice to collect new copies of criminal histories on all petitioners during the clemency review process, and this policy change will streamline operations and increase equity.
Governor Northam’s new initiatives come on the heels of sweeping reforms to the Virginia Parole Board—some legislative and others based on the Board’s own evaluation of needed improvement. Many of these reforms have been created and implemented by Chairwoman Tonya Chapman who has nearly 30 years of law enforcement and public safety experience, including serving as Virginia’s first African American female police chief of a municipal police department.
“As a former law enforcement officer, I am proud of the second chances we are providing Virginians,” said Parole Board Chairwoman Tonya Chapman. “I welcome Lethia Hammond to the Virginia Parole Board and am grateful for the determination and perspective she will bring to our critical work.”