We've been fortunate here in central Virginia: we've avoided a lot of the strain between communities and law enforcement agencies that you hear about on the news. A big reason for that is that our local law enforcement agencies do an outstanding job at building rapport through outreach and training programs, like Albemarle County's Citizen's Academy. When police officers establish a respectful, long-term relationship with the communities they serve, it sets up a recipe for success. In my opinion, we have a model here that could and should be emulated across the nation.
We're also fortunate that Virginia has been a national leader in reducing recidivism. The Commonwealth has generally done a good job at ensuring the worst offenders remain in prison for as long as necessary to prevent them from committing crimes again. But far too many non-violent crimes — particularly routine drug crimes — have been classified as felony offenses. Even Justice Antonin Scalia thought that we were locking up too many non-violent offenders for too long.
I am glad that we're finally taking steps to restore voting rights to former offenders. Virginians who have served their time and repaid their debt to society should be able to exercise their Constitutional rights.
But there is still more work to do. We need to make sure that judges can use their experience, discretion, and common sense rather than having their hands tied by mandatory minimum sentences and zero-tolerance laws. Judges should also have the power to enroll offenders in alternative sentencing programs that emphasize community service, treatment for addiction, and other approaches to rehabilitation. Texas and other states have implemented similar reforms without compromising public safety — and if Texas can do it, so can Virginia.
Politicians love to brag that they are "tough on crime." To really protect the people of the 58th District, though, we need to be smart about crime.