Report: Va. justice system headed for crisis
(by Frank Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 14, 2013, Link)
Virginia’s justice system is too expensive, ineffective, unfair and headed for a crisis, according to a policy brief released Wednesday by the Justice Policy Institute.
“Despite some recent small progress in the areas of post-incarceration re-entry, particularly felony disenfranchisement, the state continues to suffer under misguided policies and practices of the past,” the study concludes.
Reaction from state officials was not immediately available Wednesday. The Justice Policy Institute is a liberal think tank based in Washington.
Among other things, the study said truth-in-sentencing laws enacted in 1995 failed to reduce crime “and Virginia’s aggressive stance on arresting people for drug violations has had no effect on reducing drug use, which has increased in recent years.”
The institute said small changes to state laws could make big differences. For example, raising the amount that distinguishes grand larceny from $200 to $600 could save the state millions of dollars.
Kate Duvall, with the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, said, “The $200 grand larceny threshold is the most blatant example of how Virginia’s justice system needs to be modernized.”
“The last time the threshold was raised was 33 years ago, when $200 was the equivalent of $557 in today’s dollars,” said Duvall, who read the institute’s report Wednesday.
Duvall said a 2008 Virginia Department of Corrections study estimated that raising the threshold to $600 would save $1.8 million in the first year.
The savings would not be limited to the adult system because in 2012, larceny was the second-highest offense for which youth were committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice, she noted.
The state has the 46th-lowest violent crime rate among states and 43rd-lowest property crime rate but is 11th in general funds spent on corrections. The state’s annual cost for prisons and jails is now $1.5 billion, the study says.
Virginia’s violent and property crime rates, like the rates in other states, fell 33 and 22 percent, respectively, over the past decade. The number of arrests has dropped just 1.1 percent over the past two decades, the institute says.
That is largely because from 2002 to 2011, the state’s overall arrest rate decreased 9.8 percent but the number of drug arrests from 2001 to 2012 increased 51 percent, from 25,244 to 38,349.
In 2011, Virginia spent more than $94 million on drug arrests alone and, in 2012, marijuana arrests made up nearly two-thirds of all drug arrests.
The policy brief said that while whites and African-Americans use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans — about 20 percent of Virginia’s population — make up 44 percent of those locked up for drugs and roughly 60 percent of the prison population.
The institute’s study also was critical of Virginia’s juvenile justice system in which the disproportionate minority presence increases the deeper a youth goes into the system.
African-American youths comprise 42.5 percent of arrested youth; 52 percent of detained youths; and 70 percent of youths committed to juvenile correctional centers at an annual cost of more than $103,000 each.
The brief’s findings will be presented from 4 to 6 p.m. today at Virginia Union University in an event sponsored by the Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration and the Virginia Union University Center for the Study of the Urban Child. The public is invited to the free event at the Richmond Police Academy on the Virginia Union campus at 1202 W. Graham Road.
The Rev. Emory Berry Jr., senior pastor of the Fourth Baptist Church in Richmond and board chairman of the Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration, said, “It’s time for a justice system overhaul.”
“The findings in this policy brief are unfortunately not surprising considering what my congregants tell me about their loved ones,” he said. “This policy brief tells us it is time to reform this so-called justice system.”