Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program

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The Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program (CRRJ) works to end the criminalization of poverty in Virginia by exposing and addressing the injustice that results from criminal legal system policies- from policing decisions to court practices to state-sanctioned barriers to reentry- that target people because of poverty and race. Through a strategic mix of community organizing, local and statewide policy advocacy, and impact litigation, this program works to reform our criminal legal system’s over-reliance on incarceration and perpetuation of racial injustice.

Though the Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program was officially launched in early 2017, the core values espoused by the program have been central to the Legal Aid Justice Center’s mission for a long time. Building on that work, the program is committed to intervening at every point in the criminal legal system- from initial law enforcement contact in the community, through the courts, to individuals’ confinement in Virginia’s jails and prisons, and finally to their reentry into the community. 

Our systemic reform efforts seek to:

  • Eliminate unjustified and/or unlawful law enforcement contact with people of color in their communities;
  • Ensure courts uphold the guarantees of due process and fundamental fairness for low-income people of color;
  • Ensure just treatment of the most vulnerable confined to carceral institutions; and
  • Eliminate barriers to economic stability for low-income people of color reentering communities.

Our initiatives include:

  • Drive Down the Debt
  • Our lawsuit challenging Virignia’s “Habitual Drunkard” Law
  • Continuing enforcement of a settlement agreement with the Virginia Department of Corrections over unconstitutional medical care at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
  • Supporting local communities organizing to end police practices that contribute to the over-criminalization and economic instability of low-income people of color in Virginia. We use various legal and advocacy tools to assist community members calling for more accountability from local law enforcement.
  • Assisting low-income Virginians, most of whom are people of color, trapped by Virginia’s burdensome court debt system because of their inability to pay arbitrary criminal court fines and costs. We educate individuals and practitioners via Know Your Rights clinics and collaborate with community members and stakeholders in an effort to dismantle the discriminatory policies and practices that result in harsh penalties.
  • Advocating for reform of Virginia’s broken bail system, which continues to rely on wealth-based detention practices and subjects a disproportionate number of people of color to pretrial detention.