Pubdate: Thu, 14 Nov 2013
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2013 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: Frank Green
Page: B2


Washington Think Tank Says Small Changes to Virginia Laws Could Make
Big Differences

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

"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 

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 46thlowest 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 twothirds of all drug

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

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."
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