Editor: Congratulations to Speaker-Elect Eileen Filler-Corn on becoming Virginia’s first woman Speaker of the House! This year has been historic and we are excited to see what the new leadership can do to improve criminal justice reform in our state.
The NAACP, along with many other groups, advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies to keep our communities safe, including treatment for addiction and mental health problems, judicial discretion in sentencing, and an end to racial disparities at all levels of the system. The effects of mass incarceration and drug sentencing inequities continues to devastate communities, particularly communities of color, and Virginia is no exception.
The statistics in our state are abysmal. According to the ACLU-VA, while only about one in five Virginians is African American, 49 percent of those charged with a first offense of marijuana possession are black. Approximately 40 percent of youth jailed in our state come from one community—Hampton Roads. Currently, Loudoun County has 12 judges and not one identifies as a member of any minority community. In early 2020, there will be two vacancies in our General District Courts and this is an opportunity to correct this disparity. These are just a few examples of how racist and unjust our current system is and how important the chair of the Courts of Justice Committee will be in leading racial and economic justice in Virginia.
In the speaker-elect’s decision for this powerful position, please ensure that the Chair has a strong record to support:
- Reforming the pre-trial system and re-entry laws, especially cash bail
- Promoting juvenile justice reforms via best practices, particularly utilizing small facilities, located in the communities of the young persons in custody
- Raising the threshold for felony larceny to at least $1500
- Decriminalizing marijuana with a pathway to legalization
- Ensuring diversity in the judiciary so that our courts are representative of our communities, including all court system personnel such as parole officers
We urge the speaker-elect to appoint a chair who will work toward these goals and who embodies the principles of restorative justice, fairness, and community-inclusion. Appointing a chair that is a current prosecutor without a strong track record on these issues is a conflict of interest that we strongly oppose. We want to build communities that support people, not prisons. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Pastor Michelle C. Thomas, President of the NAACP Loudoun Chapter
Sean Perryman, President of the NAACP Fairfax Chapter
Julius D. Spain, Sr., President of the NAACP Arlington Chapter & Regional Vice President, North Region, Virginia State Conference NAACP
Benedetta Kissel, Chair Political Action Committee, Arlington NAACP
Simone Walker & Sherrie Kerns, Co-Chairs, Education Committee, Arlington NAACP
Kenny Boddye, Supervisor-Elect, Occoquan District, Prince William County
Justice Forward Virginia
RISE for Youth
Virginia Justice Democrats
Marijuana Justice Virginia