For centuries, Virginia’s criminal justice system has disproportionately targeted Black and Brown communities in the Commonwealth. Built with punishment in mind rather than rehabilitation and plagued by systemic racism, it has continually failed to address the systemic issues and underlying causes that lead people to become part of the system, instead leading to the over-policing, over-criminalization, and over-incarceration of Black Virginians. Virginians deserve a criminal justice system that treats every person equally regardless of where they live, the color of their skin, or their socioeconomic status. It is time we reevaluate not only how we prevent crime, but how we charge, sentence, and rehabilitate justice-involved individuals. We can keep our communities safe, prevent crime, and support victims while providing justice-involved individuals with the tools they need to participate meaningfully in their communities.
Virginia incarcerates around 60,000 people in its jails and prisons on any given day and supervises more than 70,000 through probation and parole.1 Incarceration is extremely costly for taxpayers and disproportionately impacts Black and Brown Virginians. Housing offenders in our state prisons costs an average of $34,000 per offender per year, and the cost in our local correctional facilities is approximately $32,000 per offender, per year.2 While Black Virginians represent only 20% of our population,3 they represent 55% of the incarcerated population in our state correctional facilities.4 It is time for big and bold action to keep our neighbors safe and our practices just. As Virginia’s next governor, Terry will deliver criminal justice reform necessary to promote an equitable criminal justice system rooted in strong reforms and second chances.
As Virginia’s 72nd Governor, Terry bucked the status quo and championed progressive criminal justice reforms, despite facing relentless opposition from a Republican legislature. He boldly restored the voting rights of over 173,000 Virginians, more than any governor in the nation, and issued 227 pardons, more than any governor before him. These pardons corrected wrongful convictions, allowed individuals who received harsh and unjust sentences to finally return home to their families, and formally forgave countless Virginians who paid their debts to society. He also developed strong rapport with the re-entry community, hearing from them directly on what issues needed to be improved upon and taking action to meet their needs.
During his tenure, Terry transformed Virginia’s juvenile justice system and reduced our population of incarcerated youths by nearly two-thirds, invested the resulting savings into community programs, provided free transportation for families to support visitation, and brought high-speed internet to Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center (Bon Air JCC), resulting in the state’s first-ever college credit programs for committed youths.5 Terry also invested millions of dollars in re-entry programs, alternatives to incarceration, and mental health and substance use disorder services. As governor, he recognized the importance of investing in these critical programs, and when faced with a $2.4 billion deficit early in his term, he chose to close an adult prison rather than eliminate critical rehabilitation programs. Terry was proud to later announce in 2016 that Virginia had achieved the lowest recidivism rate in the nation for the first time at 23.4%, meaning that individuals leaving our state correctional centers were successfully rebuilding their lives and we were preventing future victimization in our communities.6
As the next governor of Virginia, Terry will continue to take bold action and work with the diverse stakeholders in this complex system to create necessary change. With equity at the forefront, he will fight to achieve justice in sentencing, focus on rehabilitation and addressing the root causes of criminal behavior and recidivism instead of punishment, offer second chances, rebuild trust between law-enforcement agencies and communities, continue to combat the opioid addiction epidemic, and solidify the transformation of our juvenile justice system. Terry believes leading starts with listening. The best way to fix problems is to hear from those directly affected by the issues we are facing and take aggressive action to address them.
We have reached a pivotal moment in our country. Citizens across our nation and our Commonwealth are desperate for change in our criminal justice system. If we want to finally implement real criminal justice reform, we have to be bold. We owe it to the generations of Virginians who have been targeted and treated unjustly because of the color of their skin or the neighborhood they live in. With a Democratic majority in our legislature, Terry will push Virginia forward and ensure all Virginians live in safe communities and have fair justice under the law by reimagining our criminal justice system with innovative ideas.