VIRGINIA PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE
JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM IN VIRGINIA
Expungement: SB 22, Police and court records; expungement of certain offenses.
What this does: This bill allows a person to petition for expungement of convictions and deferred disposition dismissals for marijuana possession, underage alcohol possession, and using a false ID to obtain alcohol when the offense occurred prior to the person's 21st birthday and five years have elapsed since the date of completion of all terms of sentencing and probation.
Why this is important: When properly applied, expungement recognizes the ability of individuals who have made mistakes to become contributing, accountable members of society, and limits collateral consequences like chronic unemployment and prohibition from financial aid. In doing so, it encourages those who have committed crime to live responsibly and provide for their families.
How you can take action: Let the General Assembly know that you support expungement eligibility for some substance abuse charges against young people.
Disorderly Conduct Amendment: HB 1134, disorderly conduct by students on school property
What this does: This bill excludes school children at any primary or secondary school from being criminally charged under the disorderly conduct statute for disruptive but otherwise not criminal behavior, if the disruptive actions happened on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored activity.
Why this is important: By exempting in-school behavior by students from the disorderly conduct code section, this would mean that disruptive, but otherwise non-criminal, behavior of our children in their schools be handled by in-school discipline rather than by courts and police. When we address classroom disruptions as they should be—through in-school suspension, behavior plans, even community service or restorative justice programs—we spend taxpayer money in the best way possible.
Bill status: HB 1134 was approved in committee by a vote of 14 to 5. More information about how you can support this bill will be available once it reaches the assembly floor.
How you can take action: Let the General Assembly know that you support this disorderly conduct amendment to keep Virginia’s youth in school instead of in court.
Mandatory Reporting for Schools: HB 1132, required submissions of incident reports by school principals
What this does: This bill eliminates the requirement that school principals report certain enumerated acts that may constitute a misdemeanor offense to law enforcement. Currently, the Code of Virginia requires schools to report more than 40 offenses to law enforcement—even misdemeanors. If passed, this bill would restore to school teachers and administrators the ability to use their own professional judgment in deciding what behavior to report to law enforcement unless that behavior could result in a felony charge.
Why this bill is important: By limiting referrals of our school children to law enforcement to those scenarios where either school staff truly feel that law enforcement presence is necessary, or where the behavior in question would constitute a felony, we can keep the majority of Virginia’s kids from making an early entry into the criminal justice system. We can address the high school-to-law-enforcement referral rate that Virginia right now boasts, and we can promote teacher discretion.
Bill status: HB 1132 has passed out of committee by a 17-2 vote. Keep an eye out for ways to support this bill once it reaches the assembly floor.
How you can take action: Click here to let the General Assembly know that you support this amendment to the mandatory incident report statute to restore school staff discretion and to keep Virginia’s kids in school instead of in court.
Felony Threshold: SB 23, increases the threshold amount for crimes to be considered a felony
What this does: This bill increases the felony larceny threshold in Virginia from $200 to $500. The bill increases the threshold by the same amount for the classification of certain property crimes.
Why this is important: Right now, Virginia has one of the lowest felony thresholds for larceny in the nation, unchanged since 1980, even to reflect inflation. As a result, more Virginians are being convicted of felony charges for what are considered small offenses in other states. Data supports a heightened felony larceny threshold, showing that raising such a threshold does not result in an increase in property crime and larceny rates.
How you can take action: Let the General Assembly know that you support this change of the felony threshold for larceny, to ensure a system of more proportional punishment in Virginia.
Regulations to Limit the Use of Restraints on Women Who Are Pregnant and Incarcerated
What they do: These regulations demonstrate Virginia's commitment to secure every woman's dignity and protect her health and the health of her child.
How we took action: Click here to see how Prison Fellowship and other Virginia organizations have been active in supporting these regulations to protect women from being unnecessarily shackled during pregnancy and childbirth.
Outcome: Thanks to the dedicated support of our Virginia network, regulations to limit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates have been signed by the Governor and the regulations have been published on the Virginia Register.
Endorsed Legislation: SJ 266, a restoration of rights bill
What it does: amends the Virginia constitution to provide for the restoration of civil rights of persons convicted of non-violent felony offenses.
How we took action: We sent an endorsement letter to Virginia Delegates, encouraging them to pass SJ 266. View letter here. President Craig DeRoche also authored an op-ed arguing that restoration of rights represents justice. Read DeRoche's piece here.
Outcome: Bill did not pass.
HOWEVER, although SJ266 did not pass, Governor Robert F. McDonnell instituted a new policy effective July 15, 2013 that will automatically restore voting rights to persons convicted of non-violent felony offenses who have completed their sentence and satisfied certain conditions.
Endorsed Legislation: SB 379, a sentencing reform bill
What it does: Senate Bill 379 raises the grand larceny threshold from $200 to $500. The felony threshold was set at $200 in 1980, and it has not been raised in correlation with inflation since. Calculation for inflation, $200 in 1980 is worth $568.32 today. This reform will save Virginia millions annually and improve public safety by decreasing recidivism among juveniles. Adjusting the grand larceny threshold reduces the likelihood that people, particularly youth, will receive disproportionate sentences, while saving money and protecting our communities. Incarcerating low-level offenders does not reduce the probability of future offenses. It may increase the likelihood of re-offense because youth are often exposed to more seriously troubled juveniles in secure detentions facilities and removed from the support of family, churches, and other local support systems. With this bill, judges sentencing youth will be able to choose from a wider range of consequences to put teens back on the right track to becoming law-abiding and self-sufficient adults.
How we took action: We put together a one-pager explaining how SB 379 would save Virginia money and improve public safety. See it here.
Outcome: Being held over until 2015.
Endorsed Legislation: HB 414, a re-entry bill
What it does: House Bill 414 caps commissions from phone revenue produced by those in prison at ten percent and creates a special “re-entry fund” for money that the Commonwealth retains. Currently, the money received from prison phone commissions goes into the general fund. This bill will keep our community safe, and it will better enable the Commonwealth of Virginia to assist people who are leaving prisons and re-entering our communities.
Outcome: Bill did not pass.
Endorsed Legislation: HB 892
What it does: House Bill 892 bars any state agency from questioning or inquiring whether a candidate for employment has been arrested or convicted of a crime prior to conducting an interview. In addition, the bill makes clear that a state agency will not be required to hire a candidate that has been convicted of a crime that has a rational relationship to the duties and responsibilities of the job. House Bill 892 is critical for people who are trying to get their lives back on track as those that have been through the criminal system and are unemployed are at least 2 times more likely to be re-arrested than their employed counterparts. It is imperative that we remove every barrier to employment that we can. This bill will likely increase public safety by providing an alternative to a life of crime.
How we took action: We sent letters to committee delegates, explaining how this bill would benefit all Virginians. Read the letter here.
Outcome: Bill did not pass.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE OVERVIEW
- 1 in 51 adults in the criminal justice system
- Taxpayer burden: $25,129 per prisoner per year
- Adults in prison: 37,044
- Adults in jail: 27,313
- Adults on probation: 52,956
- Adults on parole: 1,983
*Statistics generated from reports by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons 2000-2011; Probation and Parole in the United States (2013); Prisoners in 2013, Vera Institute of Justice (The Price of Prisons), 2010 Census, Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Provention 2011 and various department of corrections' websites.
THINK OUTSIDE THE BARS
Join the 2016 "Restorative Punishment: Think Outside the Bars" campaign. Find out where your state stands on sentencing reform, the use of drug courts, and restorative justice programs. This research and our advocate "how-to" materials can equip you to take action that will advance justice reforms in your state!
For over 30 years, Prison Fellowship has been active on Capitol Hill, lobbying Congress to support reforms to make communities safer, respect victims, and transform lives. Prison Fellowship played a leading role in working with Members of Congress to pass groundbreaking criminal justice reforms, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (2000), the Prison Rape Elimination Act (2000), Second Chance Act (2008), and the Fair Sentencing Act (2010), among others. Additionally, Prison Fellowship and the Texas Public Policy Foundation co-founded Right on Crime, a growing movement of conservatives committed to justice reform.