Statement in Support of Pretrial Justice

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Adeola Ogunkeyede
Legal Director, Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program, Legal Aid Justice Center 804-340-7728 | adeola@justice4all.org

Statement in Support of Pretrial Justice in Virginia

Richmond, Virginia (January 15, 2019) – Today, Legal Aid Justice Center joined other advocacy organizations to call on members of the General Assembly, as well as the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General to support Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s pretrial transparency bills. The bills (HB 2121/ SB 1687)  would allow policy makers and advocates to better understand the pretrial experiences of everyone involved in the Virginia criminal justice system, and it would arm policymakers, researchers, and everyday people with the information needed to craft effective policy solutions. You can read the full letter here.

Virginia currently does not collect or report data concerning statewide pretrial outcomes. As a result, the current process leads to unnecessary pretrial detention, punctuated by racial and economic disparities. Without consistent data collection and reporting on the full range of pretrial decisions, we will not be able to create effective laws that address these problems or move us closer to justice and away from costly, unnecessary, and often unfair detention.

The Legal Aid Justice Center has taken a leading role in efforts by the advocacy community to bring pretrial injustices in Virginia to light. In Fall 2017, Legal Aid Justice Center’s Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program began studying Virginia’s pretrial practices. We analyzed information about jail populations submitted in response to Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests, talked with public defenders and community groups about their clients’ or membership’s experiences with bail and pretrial detention, provided technical assistance to community bail funds engaging in “bail out” campaigns, and devised a court-watch program to observe the pretrial system in practice.

While the data we collected did not cover the whole state, what we found was more than troubling. Some of the findings from that study were eventually cited by the Attorney General in his October 2018 letter suggesting the Virginia should end its reliance on cash bonds as a condition of pretrial release. We believe that Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s pretrial transparency bills are urgently needed for Virginia to get at the heart of what changes are necessary to move this system toward meaningful reform.

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The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, employment rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.

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