CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Prosecutors in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are among those leading the charge for criminal justice reform in Richmond. They are calling on state lawmakers to support what they call ‘common sense’ criminal justice reforms.
Ending the mandatory minimum for sentencings, cash bail, and the death penalty are just some of the policies they are urging the general assembly to guide new bills in the upcoming session.
“We can get these criminal justice reforms enacted to cover all of Virginia,” said Albemarle County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley. “It’s that important.
Hingeley is among a dozen Commonwealth’s Attorneys to sign a letter calling for change.
“If we increase the punishment, if we give people more incarceration, that’s not really appropriate to hold them accountable,” he said. “Then what we’re doing is we’re creating people who are more likely to commit crimes in the future.”
The reforms aim to make the system equitable, especially for nonviolent offenders. One way is by stopping the “three strikes law”, which is when those who get a third misdemeanor larceny charge converted into a felony.
“We also want to take an offender that may have made a bad choice and a bad decision for a nonviolent offense and figure out how to get them reintegrated back into our community and have them be productive and work and go to school and take care of their families,” said Joe Platania, Charlottesville’s commonwealth’s attorney.
Platania says he and other prosecutors serve a significant role in the attempt to change policy because for so long, it was prosecutors perpetuating mass incarceration.
“I saw the tremendous amount of discretion that prosecutors had and the strength of their voice within the system,” he said. “Prosecutors can do an awful lot of harm, but they also can do an awful lot of good.”
Good that both prosecutors say is already happening in their jurisdictions.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in this past year changing things in Albemarle County,” Hingeley said. “But now the effort has been made to bring these reforms to the state level.”
The full letter, which can be viewed here, includes five reform proposals:
- Automated, automatic, and free expungement of criminal records for formerly system-involved community members
- End mandatory minimum sentences
- End cash bail
- Abolish the death penalty
- End the “three strikes” felony enhancement for petty larceny offenses