Charlottesville, Virginia (August 2, 2019) – The Legal Aid Justice Center commends Attorney General Herring for his decision today accepting the Fourth Circuit’s ruling regarding invalidating Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” regime.
“We look forward to working with Virginia to implement constructive programs to address homelessness and addiction in our state, such as expanding Housing First and Addiction Recovery Treatment Services. We also express our deep appreciation for our pro bono partner and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty for their indispensable assistance on this critical matter,” said Elaine Poon of the Legal Aid Justice Center.
“We are thrilled that Attorney General Herring has let the court decision striking down this antiquated law stand,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “We can all agree that no one wants to see homeless people with alcoholism on the streets, but law enforcement and public health experts agree that housing, not handcuffs, is the best, most cost-effective way of making that happen. While we celebrate today’s advancement, we look forward to working with Virginia’s legislature and executive to put those housing solutions in place-the true victory will come when all those who need housing have it.”
FOURTH CIRCUIT STRIKES DOWN UNCONSTITUTIONAL “HABITUAL DRUNKARD” STATUTE
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, July 16, 2019 — Today in Manning v. Caldwell, the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, struck down Virginia’s statutory scheme that permitted the state to interdict and prosecute people as “habitual drunkards”—a practice that unjustly targets Virginians with alcoholism who are also homeless. The Legal Aid Justice Center and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP brought this challenge on behalf of several Plaintiffs arguing that the statute singles them out for incarceration based on their disease and their homeless status in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Fourth Circuit agreed.
The Court ruled that the term “habitual drunkard” is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. It found that the statute failed to provide fair notice to the public, “imposing criminal penalties on an untold number of chronically ill citizens.” The Court agreed that such vague language in a criminal statute invited arbitrary enforcement and allows for the state to “target persons, including the homeless, that state officials deem undesirable.”
Further, the Court agreed with Plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment challenge, affirming a central Constitutional value that one cannot be punished for who they are rather than what they have done. The Court stated, “What the Eighth Amendment cannot tolerate is the targeted criminalization of otherwise legal behavior that is an involuntary manifestation of an illness.”
The Legal Aid Justice Center applauded this landmark decision by the Court. “It is clear that the Court understood the heart of the issues — that the Constitution cannot allow for the criminalization of illness and homelessness. We look forward to telling our clients about this victory, so that they can pursue their lives without the constant fear of arrest and prosecution,” said Elaine Poon of the Legal Aid Justice Center.
“We are thrilled the majority in the 4th Circuit agreed with the position in our amicus, and the one affirmed in the 9th Circuit’s decision in Martin v. Boise, that it is cruel and unusual to punish homeless individuals for involuntary conduct that must take place in public because they do not have an adequate alternative,” said Eric Tars, legal director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “Virginia’s cities, and other cities in the 4th Circuit, should take heed that if they want to reduce the negative impacts of homelessness on their community, the most effective, most cost-effective, and most constitutional way to do so is providing adequate housing and services. Using the criminal justice system to deal with a social service failure is not an option.”
Jonathan Marcus of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP argued the case and stated, “we applaud the Court of Appeals’ decision that Virginia’s habitual drunkard regime is unconstitutional. It is an important victory for those who suffer from the illness of alcoholism. We look forward to the development of humane and constructive solutions to the serious problems of homelessness and alcoholism that are called for by this decision.
Background In March 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia (LAJC) and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless individuals suffering from alcoholism. The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code §§ 4.1,-305, 4.1-322, and 4.1-333), to repeatedly incarcerate homeless individuals, violating their constitutional rights by punishing homeless alcoholics for having the disease of alcoholism. It also violates their right to due process by criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol—an otherwise lawful activity—without required constitutional protections. The complaint also challenges the statute as unconstitutionally vague because it fails to define “habitual drunkard” and encourages arbitrary police enforcement. Virginia’s antiquated interdiction law imposes penalties far beyond the state law prohibiting public intoxication, which results in only a small fine. The Interdiction Statute, by contrast, allows a Commonwealth’s attorney to petition the circuit court to declare someone a “habitual drunkard.” Once given this stigmatizing label, that person is subject to up to a year in jail if caught simply possessing alcohol.
About the Legal Aid Justice Center
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, workers’ rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.
U.S. DISTRICT COURT REJECTS HERRING’S REQUEST TO DISMISS THE STINNIE v. HOLCOMB DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION LAWSUIT
Charlottesville, VA—Today, Judge Norman Moon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued an opinion in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit filed in 2016 by the Legal Aid Justice Center and McGuireWoods LLP challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s law automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines.
Judge Moon denied DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb and Attorney General Mark Herring’s request to dismiss the case. The Attorney General had argued that the one-year freeze of court debt driver’s license suspensions created by the budget amendment—which takes effect July 1, 2019, and expires July 1, 2020—should end the case.
Judge Moon rejected that argument, finding “although the Budget Amendment may indeed reflect shifting political winds … future enforcement of [the court debt driver’s suspension law] remains reasonably possible such that this case is not moot …” The Court refused to dismiss the case based on the “hypothetical and speculative” facts offered by the Commissioner.
However, Judge Moon decided to stay, or postpone, trial in the Stinnie case to give the General Assembly a chance to pass a permanent fix during the current one-year freeze.
“The Plaintiffs would have preferred to have their day in court this August and end this civil rights crisis permanently,” said Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But if the Commonwealth will not take responsibility for decades of violating people’s constitutional rights, we will continue to fight in the General Assembly to fix it for the future.”
The Plaintiffs, the Legal Aid Justice Center, McGuireWoods LLP, and their pro bono partners remain committed to ending the injustice of court debt driver’s license suspensions in Virginia. It is unfair, counterproductive, and unconstitutional. It punishes the poor, and it must end.
Background: Stinnie v. Holcomb is a putative class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and McGuireWoods LLP, challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of nearly one million Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines. The case was originally dismissed at the District Court, but it was revived by the Fourth Circuit last year when the appeals court allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint. When LAJC filed the amended complaint, they also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have the effect of ordering the DMV Commissioner to stop suspending driver’s licenses for non-payment of court debt while the lawsuit is pending. On November 15, 2018, Judge Moon took evidence and heard arguments for and against the preliminary injunction. On December 21, 2018 Judge Moon granted the preliminary injunction finding the driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and ordering the DMV Commissioner to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds. The Court also rejected the Commissioner’s arguments that the federal court lacked jurisdiction. The case had been set for trial in August 2019. Today’s decision has the effect of postponing the trial until next year, to permit Virginia’s General Assembly to repeal Virginia’s court debt license suspension law.
About the Legal Aid Justice Center 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, workers’ rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.
Virginia Schools Need Investment in Support Staff—Not More School Resource Officers
Yesterday, Governor Northam announced over $3.47 million in School Resource Officer (SRO) incentive grants to 53 localities across the Commonwealth. The funding will allow school divisions to add more SROs to Virginia’s K-12 public schools, increasing the number of SROs in Virginia by 10 percent, according to the press release. To create safer schools where all children can learn and thrive, Virginia must divest from placing law enforcement inside schools and make bold new investments in school support staff and trauma-informed and restorative practices.
School Policing Is A Racial Justice Issue
African-American students are disproportionately swept into the criminal justice system for incidents that take place at school. A 2017 Virginia Tech study uncovered significant racial disparities in referrals to law enforcement for school-based offenses: African-American students accounted for roughly 23 percent of the student population in Virginia but nearly 50 percent of referrals to the juvenile justice system. Those disparities are heightened inside school buildings and persist throughout Virginia’s law enforcement and juvenile court process. A single report of a student to law enforcement, even if it does not lead to a juvenile court intake, can have devastating and ongoing consequences for a student: stigmatization by school staff and peers, erosion of trust in school staff, susceptibility to more police encounters, and loss of interest in school.
As outlined in an extensive report from The Advancement Project, school policing has roots in efforts to quash youth support for the Civil Rights movement, and African-American students report feeling less safe with police in schools.
Both the data and historically overpoliced communities themselves tell us clearly: rather than providing for the safety of students, a school law enforcement presence merely shuttles more students—and disproportionately more African-American students—into court for school discipline matters that should be handled by school personnel.
Meanwhile, Virginia understaffs positions critical to student support—positions that should be the first line of support for students who instead are garnering charges—and student caseloads are staggering. School counselors had an average caseload of 385 students in 2016, well above the recommended standard of 250 students. In 2015, school social workers had an average caseload of 1,600 students; the national recommendation was 1,000.
Virginia Must Fix Its School Funding Crisis
SROs are law enforcement officers, not student support personnel. Rather than prioritizing SROs, the Commonwealth must first fulfill its state constitutional duty to invest in high-quality, twenty-first century schools with adequate student support staff. But given the opportunity, the administration has neglected to propose, and the General Assembly has declined, over and over, to fully fund the required staffing positions to achieve high-quality schools for all students. Despite broad support for a new law, effective July 1, to require school divisions to lower counselor-to-student ratios, the state’s FY20 budget doesn’t fully fund the new caseload requirements—leaving local school divisions with an unfunded mandate. This shortfall also exists despite recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to lift the state budget’s arbitrary “support position cap”—which limits funding for school support positions, including central office positions, attendance officers, school social workers, and maintenance personnel.
To truly create supportive learning enforcements for our students—Virginia must fully fund our schools.
6 Things To Know Right Now about the recent Virginia budget amendment
to temporarily halt driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court debt:
1. The budget amendment should lift current driver’s license suspensions for unpaid or delinquent court debt, and will prevent future such suspensions beginning July 1, 2019 and lasting until June 30, 2020. (We don’t yet know what the policy will be after the budget amendment expires.)
According to the DMV, if your license is suspended solely for unpaid court debt AND it is not expired AND you still have it in your possession, your driver’s license will automatically become valid (and reinstatement fee will be waived) on July 1, 2019, and you will not have to do anything.
If your license is suspended solely for unpaid court debt and it IS expired or otherwise needs to be updated (for example, you lost it or you need to update your “proof of legal presence”), your suspension will be lifted and reinstatement fee waived BUT you will likely need to contact the DMV to renew your license and will likely be charged renewal or other administrative fees, which will vary by individual.
If your license is suspended for unpaid court debt AND some other reason, the DMV says it will lift the court debt suspension BUT you will still need to serve out the other suspension(s) and fulfill any court or DMV obligations related to those suspensions before your license can become valid. We do not yet know how DMV will implement this.
If your Virginia driver’s license was suspended for court debt and you now live in another state, the Virginia DMV says this suspension “will no longer be visible” to other states, but we do not yet know what this means in practice.
The DMV says they will send a letter to individuals in Virginia listing any additional actions, if any, they will need to take to get a valid license (renewal applications, fees, etc.).
2. Though it lifts current court debt-related driver’s license suspensions and prevents future such suspensions through June 30, 2020, the budget amendment does not cancel debt owed.
You will still be required to pay your court debt, & the court could still pursue collections against you with mechanisms that include: wage garnishment, tax intercept, debt collector intervention, and, possibly, issuing a kind of warrant called a “show cause” that will require you to appear in court to answer for the debt, which could result in some jail time.
In some cases, payment of your court debt may be a part of probation requirements or to maintain a suspended jail sentence term—please consult your attorney in these matters for advice.
3. The budget amendment only lifts/prevents license suspensions that are solely due to unpaid court fines & fees.
This does not include, for example, license suspensions given for unpaid child support. It does not include suspensions directly resulting from convictions for reckless driving, DUI, or simple possession—though it would include a license suspension based solely on any unpaid fines & fees tied to those convictions.
4. It’s possible to have more than one kind of driver’s license suspension at the same time. If you have a license suspension for an offense like a DUI, reckless driving, etc., AND a license suspension for unpaid court fines and fees, the budget amendment should still cause the unpaid fines/fees suspension to be lifted. This means, however, that the other suspension(s) will still be in effect. Again, the best way to keep track of this is to obtain your DMV compliance report on or before July 1 of this year, or as soon as you can after that.
5. The Virginia state budget that contains this budget language goes into effect July 1, 2019, and the DMV says eligible licenses will automatically become valid (unless there are administrative requirements or other suspensions), but our advice: make sure your license is valid before you drive. This law will not come into effect until July 1, 2019, so none of this applies until then!
If you drive, please drive with caution—our best advice is to seek your DMV compliance report until it shows your suspension has been lifted. Then, you may want to carry the compliance report with you if you drive, just as a precaution.
Even if your suspension is lifted, your license might not be VALID, and if you drive, you could be charged with “Driving Without An Operator’s License” (DWOL) until you fulfill the necessary requirements. The new law does not prevent consequences for DWOL or DWLS (Driving With License Suspended) charges—if your license is not valid or you are still serving another suspension or you drive from now until July 1, 2019, while under a court-debt suspension, you can still be subject to these charges.
6. If your driver’s license was suspended solely for unpaid court debt, you should not be charged the $145+ license reinstatement fee by the DMV for that reinstatement. If you have another type of license suspension, or if you need to obtain a new driver’s license or renew an expired one, the DMV may charge you fees related to either reinstating your license once you’ve served your other suspension, or fees associated with renewing or first obtaining a license. If your only license suspension is for unpaid court fines and fees, however, you should not be charged a fee related to the suspension, but could face fees for renewal, replacement, etc.
If you have questions about your driver’s license suspension, please contact the DMV. Their website has some information, as well as a contact email form specific to these cases, and other phone numbers and ways to reach them: www.DMVnow.com
Contact: Shannon Ellis, Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center 434-529-1815
WOMAN PRISONER AT FLUVANNA SEEKS RELIEF FROM LIFE-THREATENING MEDICATION FAILURES
Charlottesville, Va., April 30, 2019 — A woman incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) filed a motion today in federal court seeking relief from the prison’s repeated, life-threatening mismanagement of her medication. Ms. Margie Ryder, 39, suffers from terminal pulmonary arterial hypertension and is dependent for her survival upon appropriate administration of a powerful medication continuously delivered to her heart through a pump. Over the past year, Ms. Ryder has been repeatedly hospitalized due to FCCW’s failure to appropriately provide this medication. The motion filed today describes the daily fear Ms. Ryder suffers, wondering each time she receives her medication whether FCCW’s next mistake will be the one that kills her.
Under the terms of the Scott v. Clarke class action Settlement Agreement approved by a federal judge in 2016, FCCW is obligated to provide medications in a “timely, safe, and sufficient manner.” In January 2019, the federal court overseeing the Scott case ruled that FCCW had failed to comply with this requirement, as well as numerous other provisions of the Settlement Agreement. After hearing evidence in a weeklong enforcement trial, the Court concluded that FCCW had failed to appropriately and timely supply, distribute, and administer medications, and that this failure was of such a broad, systemic nature that the prison’s repeated dangerous medication mistakes were “hardly surprising.” Among other remedies, the Court ordered FCCW to conduct extensive re-training of the nurses employed at the prison and to develop a new protocol ensuring that patients had access to appropriate medical care. Unfortunately, the need for today’s motion makes it clear that—months later—FCCW’s medication failures continue, seriously endangering the lives of women like Ms. Ryder.
“My sentence was to serve a period of time, not to die,” said Ms. Ryder. “I desperately want to make it through the rest of my sentence so that I can be released back to my family before my time comes.”
“Ms. Ryder’s suffering is a direct result of the Department of Corrections’ ongoing failure to adequately address long-standing, well-known problems at FCCW,” said Shannon Ellis, an attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center and co-counsel for the Plaintiff prisoners. “Failures in funding, failures in staffing, and a fundamental culture of disrespect and disregard for prisoner patients fuel a dysfunctional system that results in tragedy.”
Today’s motion, filed by lawyers at the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), Wiley Rein LLP, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee (WLC), asks the Court to order DOC to develop and implement a plan to safely administer Ms. Ryder’s medications, including ensuring appropriate nurse training and oversight. It also seeks to open lines of communication at the prison between the medical staff and the plaintiff attorneys to ensure that future situations like Ms. Ryder’s can be addressed as quickly and cooperatively as possible.
About the Legal Aid Justice Center 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, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.
About Wiley Rein Wiley Rein LLP is a leading law firm located in Washington, DC, where it is a dominant presence with more than 270 attorneys and public policy advisors. Wiley Rein has earned international prominence by representing clients in complex, high-stakes regulatory, litigation, and transactional matters.
About The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs From its inception in 1968, the mission of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has been to mobilize the resources of the private bar to address issues of civil rights violations and poverty in our community. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee provides pro bono representation in a broad range of civil rights and related poverty issues impacting every group protected by our federal, state and local civil rights laws.
LEGAL AID JUSTICE CENTER
Contact: Amy Woolard, 434-529-1846, firstname.lastname@example.org
BUDGET AMENDMENT REINSTATING DRIVER’S LICENSES FOR THOUSANDS OF VIRGINIANS PASSES
Today the General Assembly rose to a tremendous occasion and passed a budget amendment that brings fairness and justice to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians whose driver’s licenses will now be reinstated from suspensions levied for unpaid court fines and fees. This amendment will also help countless others by preventing future court debt-related suspensions for the remaining duration of the state budget. All Virginians must have a fair opportunity to fulfill their obligations without losing their jobs, their ability to care for their families, and their dignity.
We are so grateful to Sen. Bill Stanley, the members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Governor Northam and his administration, and all the policymakers who shepherded this effort to success. We are also thankful for our many partners in advocacy who fought with us for this common-sense reform.
Without question, we celebrate an important victory today along with many of our clients in the Stinnie v Holcomb litigation, but we also hold the understanding that our efforts are not complete. The passage of this amendment does not moot the Stinnie case, nor does it end our legislative advocacy: the action taken in this amendment lives only as long as the current budget cycle, “freezing” court debt-related driver’s license suspensions until the existing statute can be fully repealed. For today, however, we are only filled with gratitude for this positive step, and will wait another day to assess what work is left to be done.
GOV. NORTHAM ANNOUNCES BUDGET AMENDMENT TO GIVE FULL GENERAL ASSEMBLY CHANCE TO VOTE ON DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION REPEAL
Charlottesville, Va., March 25, 2019 — Governor Northam announced today at a press conference that he will submit a budget amendment for consideration during the Reconvened Session next month that will give the Virginia General Assembly the opportunity to end the practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of those who fail to pay court fees and fines.
The current law that mandates the automatic suspension of licenses for unpaid court debt hurts people like Brianna Morgan, one of the named plaintiffs in a pending class action lawsuit filed by Legal Aid Justice Center. “Without my license, my own health suffered; rather than go to my specialists, I’d have to call an ambulance to go to the emergency room,” Brianna explained at the press conference. “And without my license, I couldn’t take my kids places, to help them learn and grow and do stuff that all kids should be able to experience.”
A bill that would have accomplished the change the Governor is seeking was introduced this year by Senator Bill Stanley. “The Commonwealth can no longer justify what has essentially become a ‘debtors’ prison’ under our watch in the General Assembly,” Senator Stanley wrote in statement provided to the press. “That’s why I introduced SB1013 this legislative session to repeal the current law that mandates these unjust suspensions merely because a person cannot afford to pay the fines and costs. While my bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, It was never heard by the full House of Delegates, even though it had overwhelming bipartisan support both inside and outside of the legislature.”
“We’ve worked for years with both Republicans and Democrats to get this common sense reform passed,” said Legal Aid Justice Center Executive Director Angela Ciolfi. “We’re hopeful that the General Assembly will seize this critical opportunity to end this unconstitutional practice, which reaches deep into the daily lives of nearly one million Virginians, standing in the way of not only their attempts to pay their debts, but also their need to care for their families and maintain their jobs.”
About the Legal Aid Justice Center The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty. LAJC’s four programs: Civil Rights and Racial Justice, Economic Justice, Immigrant Advocacy, and JustChildren focus on the most pressing problems facing low income Virginians.
Our statement on the deeply offensive photos in Governor Northam’s yearbook
February 2, 2019:
The Legal Aid Justice Center condemns white supremacy in all its forms. And it is not enough to condemn the actions of a single man in the Governor’s office. We must also ask ourselves how it is that a young man in the 80s would want his legacy among classmates to be gilded with racist imagery. And we must ask ourselves how it is that a yearbook editor approved the placement of racist images on the pages of its yearbook knowing and intending that those pages would forever memorialize the ethos of those who attended the school at that time.
Honesty compels us to acknowledge that the deeply offensive photo in Governor Northam’s yearbook depicting a person in blackface and another in a Klan robe may not have come as a complete shock to many Black and brown people who know that racism’s deep roots often go unexamined as part of the fabric of American society. These decisions do not reflect just the poor judgment of one future governor or one yearbook editor. These actions reflect the fact that, as recently as three decades ago, not only did white society condone such racist behavior; it lauded and popularized that behavior.
The Legal Aid Justice Center is committed to not only challenging all the ways our laws and institutions of power cause generational harm to communities of color, but also examining our own complicity in helping keep white supremacy alive. It is only by acknowledging and addressing the ways in which white supremacy has been consciously and unconsciously reinforced across all sectors and segments of our nation that we will realize our goal of “more justice, less poverty.”
CONTACT: Adeola Ogunkeyede
Legal Director, Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program, Legal Aid Justice Center 804-340-7728 | email@example.com
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.
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.