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Personality: Robert N. Barnette Jr.

Spotlight on board chairman of Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration

1/8/2016, 6:38 a.m.
Robert N. Barnette Jr. says he was inspired to accept the position as board chairman of the Richmond-based Virginia Alliance ...

Robert N. Barnette Jr. says he was inspired to accept the position as board chairman of the Richmond-based Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration after reading “Billion Dollar Divide,” a report by the Justice Policy Institute in April 2014. “I wanted to lend my voice to a worthy cause,” he says.

He quotes former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who sponsored the National Criminal Justice Commission Act:

“With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities. Either we are home to the most evil people on Earth or we are doing something different — and vastly counterproductive. Obviously, the answer is the latter.”

The nonprofit Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration focuses on state laws, legislation and policies that lead to the lockup of so many African-American men, women and children.

Mr. Barnette says the organization’s main goal is to help reduce the mass incarceration of African-Americans, and is working to educate community leaders, pastors, politicians and others about the “bad” laws that lock people up and what’s needed to better the lives of African-Americans in Virginia.

A lot of that is being done by the organization’s board, which is comprised of pastors, NAACP leaders, academicians, community leaders and social activists from localities across Virginia.

Mr. Barnette also serves as president of the Hanover County Branch NAACP and says the two groups work together on the mass incarceration issue.

Currently, the alliance is gearing up to advocate for several legislative changes when the General Assembly session starts Wednesday, Jan. 13.

One law the alliance is working to change is raising the threshold for felony grand larceny in Virginia. Currently, a person accused of taking something valued at $200 can be charged with a felony. The alliance is working to increase that value to $1,500.

The threshold “was last increased in 1980 to $200,” Mr. Barnette explains. “Given the steady increase in consumer prices, based on the Consumer Price Index, $200 in 1980 is valued at about $600 today.”

Mr. Barnette says alliance members will meet with members of the House of Delegates and the state Senate, and send letters, faxes and emails to legislators seeking the change.

“I think chances are better than they have ever been to raise the threshold in the current Republican-controlled General Assembly,” he adds. “A wide array of community leaders, church leaders, statewide church leadership organizations encompassing many denominations, activists, taxpayers and consumers have come together in a historic way working to bring about change in Virginia’s outdated and punitive $200 felony grand larceny threshold.”

Here’s this week’s crusading Personality, Robert N. Barnette Jr.:

Occupation: Safety engineer, Chicago Bridge & Iron Co.

Place of birth: Chase City in Mecklenburg County, Va.

Education: Associate degree, Community College of the Air Force; bachelor’s degree, Virginia Commonwealth University; master’s degree, Central Michigan University.

Family: Wife, Janice H. Barnette; and two daughters, Alicia Mickleberry and Ashley Blizzard.

Other leadership roles in the community: chair, Hanover County Electoral Board; board chair, Hanover Department of Social Services; board member, Hanover County Sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Board; president, Virginia Army/Air National Guard Enlisted Association; Richmond regional board member, Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership; vice president, Richmond Chapter of the West End High School Alumni Association.