■ WE NEED A PROGRESSIVE PLAN FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
This past year, I watched with everyone else as community and police relations deteriorated in our streets in the aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd.
Our Richmond’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office (RVA CWA) failed to lead not only in these moments but also in our courtrooms. I watched in Richmond’s Circuit Court as the RVA CWA’s Office argued in two separate hearings to incarcerate a 68-year-old woman for 1.5 years because she tested positive for an illegal substance while on probation. This elderly person had an entirely nonviolent criminal record and was receiving holistic support for the first time in her life as a client of the Virginia Holistic Justice Initiative (VHJI), a nonprofit I founded when I left my position as a prosecutor and senior policy advisor with the RVA CWA’s Office in 2018 to focus on criminal justice reform.
Now, as a private defense attorney and as the Executive Director of VHJI, I knew we did significant work to assist this client in stabilizing herself: we helped her move from sleeping on the porches of family and friends into a shelter with CARITAS and eventually into her own apartment. We helped her obtain an individual counselor through the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) for her untreated trauma and substance use. We helped her restart her engagement with her probation officer – and we formed a positive relationship with her and her family to sustain this progress.
I personally did this work to support her – picking her up from the street and taking her to a shelter, engaging with her and her family members at their homes, driving her to counseling sessions, and accompanying her to probation appointments.
And yet, in a City that would see an enormous outpouring of support for criminal justice reform over the course of the year, the RVA CWA’s Office was arguing to interrupt this progress and commit the public to spending upwards of $50,000 of taxpayer money to incarcerate a nonviolent, elderly woman – a dehumanizing outcome – an outcome that wouldn’t keep anyone safer.
This decision-making and advocacy was ineffective for public safety, inhumane, and costly – but, unfortunately, it is typical of the kinds of judgements and arguments made by this RVA CWA’s Office every day in Richmond’s courtrooms.
These policies ignore on-going calls for reform and the political will of Richmonders to create a humane and effective criminal justice system in our City that works for all of us – and these actions have left many wondering:
What is this RVA CWA’s Office’s plan for reform?
I’m running with the progressive plan for reform we need.