Criminal Justice Reform
Virginia has made real progress with criminal justice issues. 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. We've started down the road of addressing civil asset forfeiture. We raised the felony larceny rate, which for decades was the most draconian in the country.
But there is so much work left to do.
We need widespread reform, starting with ending cash bail and reducing mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders. Far too many non-violent crimes — particularly routine drug crimes — have been classified as felony offenses.
We also need to address eliminating for-profit prisons, and emphasizing treatment - not punishment - for people suffering from addiction and mental illness.
We need to vociferously stand by the property rights of all Virginians, end the practice of civil asset forfeiture entirely, and replace it with criminal asset forfeiture. Bills to that effect have passed the house overwhelmingly and then died in the Senate.
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.
We must replace the school-to-prison pipeline with a school-to-opportunity pipeline. Virginia’s juvenile justice system currently incarcerates our kids at a 75% higher rate than the rest of the nation. Instead of setting children up for a cycle of punishment and incarceration, we need to offer community-based rehabilitation that builds on successful reforms begun under the McAuliffe administration, and continued under the Northam administration.
We also must make it a priority to advance reforms to the criminal justice system that reduce racial disparities, particularly the criminalization of poverty through suspension of drivers’ licenses for inability to pay fines, and a pitiful rate for indigent legal defense. The cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Virginians and weakens too many communities, and these systemic problems must be comprehensively addressed.
Finally, we need to definitively and unapologetically legalize recreational marijuana and industrial hemp. For decades now in the Commonwealth of Virginia, it has effectively already been legal- as long as you’re white, or can afford a great lawyer. As an ER Nurse, I can tell you I've never been assaulted by someone high on marijuana- but frequently am by people who are inebriated from alcohol, a legal intoxicant. Tie the taxes derived from the recreational sale of marijuana to schools and infrastructure, and retroactively grant clemency to anyone who's been charged for simple possession or other non-violent, non-distributory offenses, restoring their rights as Virginia citizens and expunging their records related to those offenses.