Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon L. Taylor faces challenge by C. Owen Inge Conway

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 10/31/2019, 5:55 p.m.
One of the standout local races is the contest for Henrico commonwealth’s attorney, where the winner is certain to be ...

One of the standout local races is the contest for Henrico commonwealth’s attorney, where the winner is certain to be a woman.

Once again in a tough election fight, incumbent Democrat Shannon L. Taylor is vying for a third, four-year term as the county’s top prosecutor.

Standing in her way is Republican C. (for Catherine) Owen Inge Conway, a criminal defense attorney and a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Henrico who was among seven veterans Ms. Taylor fired after she was first elected in 2011.

Both women are graduates of the University of Richmond Law School, and both have had substantial legal careers.

A lawyer since 1995, Ms. Taylor’s résumé includes service as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Richmond, as a special assistant U.S. attorney and as special counsel for the Richmond Multi-Jurisdictional Grand Jury.

Ms. Conway’s résumé includes 20 years as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Henrico and two other jurisdictions and service as an assistant attorney general and as a defense attorney for the Henrico Drug Court.

While Ms. Taylor has amassed a bigger campaign war chest than her opponent, Ms. Conway has captured some surprising endorsements, including one from the Democratic-leaning Richmond Crusade for Voters and one from the Henrico County Fraternal Order of Police.

On her campaign website, Ms. Taylor is described as prioritizing “compassionate, effective, progressive policies to move Henrico forward and keep the community safe while stressing a rehabilitative mindset.”

Ms. Conway points to the turnover of nearly 30 lawyers on the commonwealth’s attorney’s staff in the eight years that Ms. Taylor has been in charge as a need for change.

One of the key issues that divides the two candidates is a proposed 290-bed expansion of the county jail sought by retiring Henrico Sheriff Michael Wade to relieve overcrowding.

Sheriff Wade is so short of bed space that dozens of inmates in the Jail West on Parham Road nightly sleep on mattresses on the floor.

Ms. Taylor has opposed that expansion in following the lead of the current chairman of the Henrico Board of Supervisors, Democrat Tyrone Nelson, Also a church pastor, Rev. Nelson has said that as an African-American leader, he can- not support a jail expansion and believes there are other ways to reduce the jail population.

“I stand with Supervisor Nelson and the Recovery Community,” Ms. Taylor stated. “We need to be investing in alternatives to incarceration, not just build more prison cells to lock more people up. I want to invest in programs that help people, both inside and outside the jail.”

Ms. Conway, though, supports expanding the jail so that inmates who serve on weekends or qualify for work release would be separated from regular inmates. The new building also would have separate space for men and women.

As envisioned by Sheriff Wade, the building would include a mental health section where counselors from the county could meet with inmates, who now must be transported to Henrico Mental Health.

Another key issue has to do with the bonding of people who are awaiting trial, which appears to