General Assembly's criminal justice reform just the first step

Letters to the Editor

3/26/2020, 6 p.m.
Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: One bite at a time.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: One bite at a time.”

Gov. Ralph S. Northam took a bite out of the bloated, corrupt behemoth that is the American criminal justice system by signing a crucial piece of parole reform legislation into law.

House Bill 35, sponsored by Delegate Joseph C. Lindsey of Norfolk, makes a person eligible for parole after serving 20 years of a sentence for a felony offense or multiple sentences if that person’s crimes were committed as a juvenile.

Any time our elected officials champion progressive, evidence-based, socially conscious criminal justice reform, we should applaud it. To do so is an act of integrity and courage when such efforts are inevitably met with accusations of being too soft on crime and thereby making Virginians less safe. Those charges do not align with actual evidence, which shows that many “tough on crime” policies of the past five decades actually may have created conditions that make recidivism more likely, not less.

Additionally, our current methods are exorbitantly expensive, have led to overcrowding that puts both inmates and correctional facility employees at risk, continue to perpetuate rampant racial bias and discrimination, and disproportionately burden vulnerable communities.

Under such dire circumstances, any reform feels like an exciting step, but we must not stop there. If we hope to see meaningful change, we must take a seat at the table and start taking bites out of this problem ourselves by advocating for further criminal justice reform and insisting that our representatives do the same.