Reform criminal justice

For much of its history, Virginia, the “cradle of American democracy,” failed to live up to its ideals.

All too often, our commonwealth still treats whites by one set of standards and people of color by another. While we’ve made progress in closing this gap, the work of creating a fair and equal criminal justice system is far from finished.

Ralph Northam is proud of the McAuliffe administration’s efforts to reform our criminal justice system. Forty states in America have made the restoration of rights automatic. It was past time for Virginia to become a progressive leader on this issue. That’s why Governor Terry McAuliffe took bold action and restored the rights of more than 130,000 men and women who’d paid their debts to society.

Restoration of rights

  • Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement constitutional amendment came to be at a time when Senator Carter Glass said the provisions were meant to “eliminate the darky as a political factor in this state.”
  • Ralph will continue Governor McAuliffe’s policy of ensuring that people who have paid their debt to society are no longer second-class citizens at the ballot box.

Redistricting reform

  • Ralph has been a strong proponent of nonpartisan redistricting reform ever since he entered the Senate, co-sponsoring legislation with the late Senator John Miller to bring some sanity to redistricting.
  • The Governor and Ralph worked with Democrats in the Senate to stop Republican efforts to further gerrymander our legislative districts, and as governor, he’ll be a bulwark against further attempts to make voting more difficult and ensure redistricting is done fairly.

Juvenile justice reform

  • Ralph will continue my efforts to reform our juvenile justice system, reducing recidivism for juveniles released from correctional facilities.
  • With the tools available to us now, we’ve transformed the system by using data to put our young people on a better path.
  • As governor, he will continue to encourage community-based alternatives to juvenile correctional centers (JCC). JCCs should always be the punishment of last resort, and he will continue this administration’s efforts to make them smaller and more rehabilitative.

Mental health And criminal justice

  • Focus on diverting those with mental health problems from our jails and prisons to appropriate facilities
  • The administration recently announced $30 million for increased resources to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment, but we’re still asking too much of our law enforcement officers — we need to do more to get them the help they need.

Giving people a chance 

  • This year, the McAuliffe administration introduced a package of reforms that are vitally important to our commonwealth. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Ferguson report illuminated the negative impact fines, tickets, and fees have on low-income people trying to pull themselves out of poverty.
  • This is why Ralph wants to do away with the practice of suspending a driver’s license simply because a person can’t afford to pay court costs. By taking away an individual’s transportation, you take away their ability to pay the fine and entrap them in a never-ending cycle of fines and fees.
  • The administration also proposed expanding the type of defendant who can file a writ of innocence. As DNA testing technology advances, we need to provide those who pled guilty because years ago they viewed that as their best option an opportunity to petition the court based on new evidence.
  • Prioritize raising the felony larceny threshold to $500. We are currently tied for dead last in the United States for the lowest threshold. States like Georgia and Texas have already raised their thresholds well above our current levels. Virginia should be leading the way, not falling behind.

End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

  • We must end the School-to-Prison Pipeline and create a pipeline from our high schools and community colleges directly to jobs for those who choose not to attend a four-year college.

Addressing drug abuse

  • We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana. African Americans are 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement — money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.
  • As a doctor, Ralph is becoming increasingly convinced by the data showing potential health benefits of marijuana, such as pain relief, drug-resistant epilepsy, and treatment for PTSD. By decriminalizing it, our researchers can better study the plant so doctors can more effectively prescribe drugs made from it.
  • Continue to expand access to new substance abuse treatment options and drug courts. Our administration has made progress in combating the opioid epidemic, but with three Virginians dying each day from accidental overdose we can’t afford to slow down.

Read more: A More Fair and Just Virginia

For Virginia's Future

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