Despite all of the friction in our political system and climate, one thing has remained constant: Americans want criminal justice reform.
It’s a set of policies that remain popular across the political aisle, and for good reason. Americans waste billions of dollars a year incarcerating people, often for nonviolent offenses, on wrongful convictions, or for “crimes” that should never have been on the books in the first place.
None of this makes us safer. In fact, these wasted resources represent dollars that don’t go towards programs that would actually prevent and/or solve violent crime. Resources are finite, and how we choose to allocate the dollars in our justice system matters.
That’s why many states have passed reforms that expedite the process of returning nonviolent individuals currently incarcerated to their communities. This not only conserves the money currently being spent on their imprisonment, it also represents more workers in society (which we desperately need), and stronger communities.
One popular reform in this vein is called the “earned sentence credit program.” It’s a pretty straightforward idea: non-violent offenders who do everything right during their incarceration can earn time off their sentence and return to society more quickly.
Virginia recently passed such a program with popular support and it was set to take effect July 1, 2022. While we don’t know exactly how many people would be released to early supervision under this program, the Virginia Department of Corrections estimates around 4500 between July and September.
But now, a handful of lawmakers are working to block this law in a pretty corrupt manner. They’re planning to use a summer vote on the budget to slip an amendment through that would halt the program. At the urging of Delegate Bell and Attorney General Miyares, it is expected Governor Glenn Youngkin will send down a budget amendment that would repeal a part of this reform.
Essentially, they are trying to undermine the will of the people and take down a popular law they couldn’t stop the passage of through the budget. That’s pretty sinister.
These are real lives on the line. And it’s worth repeating, these are not violent offenders in the first place. The law excluded those there for some violent crimes, including voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery.
Despite the popularity of criminal justice reforms, there remain many lawmakers who merely care about their own power and talking points above all else. The only reason for such actions are to allow certain lawmakers to continue pretending to be “tough on crime” when in reality their policies waste resources, ruin lives, and make our society less safe.
These actions should be widely condemned.
(Disclosure: Hannah Cox is a media consultant for Americans for Prosperity, an organization that works on criminal justice reform issues).