Sec. Brian Moran: May is Second Chance Month
We were thrilled that Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran could join us for our Richmond Justice Reform Kickoff Party on May 8, 2019. His support for justice reform has undoubtedly played a critical role in Governor Northam’s commitment to making Virginia’s criminal laws more fair and sensible, a commitment reflected in the Governor declaring May “Second Chance Month” in the Commonwealth.
In a recent op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Secretary Moran explained why he and the Governor chose to declare May “Second Chance Month,” and why they believe in bringing more compassion and understanding to Virginia’s justice system:
“It is vitally important that we ensure the fair and even application of justice for all people in the commonwealth, regardless of socio-economic status, gender, class and race. . . . From our sentencing guidelines to our public defender offices, educational programs in jails and prisons to the re-entry process, we understand the significant impact that our policies have on people in the criminal justice system and on our communities. In recognition of Second Chance Month, it is timely to reflect on our past work and commit to future criminal justice reform initiatives as we work toward a safer and more equitable Virginia.”
As Secretary Moran notes, Virginia has been making strides toward a better-functioning correctional system: one that actually “corrects” instead of simply warehousing and incapacitating persons convicted of crimes. Under the leadership of Harold W. Clarke, the Department of Corrections has boasted of low recidivism rates, and has committed to “innovative programs and re-entry efforts that focus on factors such as mental health and substance use disorders.” This includes the Community Corrections Alternative Program, better known as CCAP, which has already shown a great deal of promise even in the short time since it was created.
Similarly, under the direction of Andrew Block, who recently stepped down as the head of the Department of Juvenile Justice [DJJ], Virginia replaced its notorious juvenile prisons with evidence-based services to rehabilitate juvenile offenders in their communities. The number of children in DJJ custody has decreased by almost 70% in just the past six years.
In addition, Governor Northam and Secretary Moran have demonstrated a commitment to the restoration of rights of those who become involved in the criminal justice system, including the restoration of voting rights; a hot topic in the Commonwealth and nationwide.
Secretary Moran also made mention of a number of long-overdue reforms that have been implemented during the Governor’s tenure, and of commitments the administration has made to ending mass incarceration practices like the use of mandatory minimums:
“As we recognize Second Chance Month, I feel confident that Virginia is moving toward a more equitable criminal justice system. We successfully raised the felony larceny threshold to $500 after decades of advocacy, and have ended the policy of suspending driving privileges for individuals who have unpaid fines and fees unrelated to driving, which will benefit hundreds of thousands of Virginians. In addition, Gov. Northam has announced that he will not sign another mandatory minimum sentence bill during his term as governor.”
Of course, these changes and commitments are just a small step in the long journey toward making Virginia’s justice system, as Secretary Moran notes: “While these reforms are substantial, there always is more work to be done. We are excited to engage with community members and facilitate discussions about equitable policies and improving access to resources for [returning citizens].”
What exactly is the “work” that still needs “to be done”? Check out our Justice Reform To-Do List for some ideas. We’re still 49th out of 50 states in criminal discovery—the right of a defendant to obtain information about his case from the government prior to trial. As it stands, if you’re charged with a crime in Virginia, you still have no right to see the police report from your own case.
In addition, juries in Virginia are kept in the dark about their sentencing options until they’re forced to impose lengthy minimum sentences, and poor defendants in need of funding for expert witnesses must tell their trial strategy to the prosecutor. Not to mention, even after the 2018 reform, Virginia still has one of the lowest larceny thresholds, marijuana possession can still be punished with up to a year in jail, and possession of marijuana extracts—the substance found in almost all edibles—remains a felony.
Indeed there is a long way to go, but with leaders like Secretary Moran making criminal justice reform a priority, and demonstrating a genuine openness to positive, fair-minded changes to the criminal code, we are hopeful that progress is close on the horizon.