Virginia commonwealth’s attorneys call for criminal justice reform ahead of upcoming legislative session

Virginia Politics

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A group of Virginia prosecutors have issued a letter to the General Assembly calling for criminal justice reform ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

The Virginia General Assembly is scheduled to convene on Jan. 13, and several members of the Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice (VPPFJ) are making their voices heard.

In a letter issued Monday, the group, which represents 40% of the state’s population, asked the General Assembly to “help make their communities safer and the commonwealth’s justice system more fair and equitable.”

The group is comprised of a dozen prosecutors and includes Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn, Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory D. Underwood, and Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie N. Morales.

Proposals listed in their letter include:

  • Automated, automatic, and free expungement of criminal records for formerly system-involved community members
  • End mandatory minimum sentences
  • End cash bail
  • Abolish the death penalty
  • End the “three strikes” felony enhancement for petty larceny offenses

The group of prosecutors ended the letter applauding the recent progress of the General Assembly on criminal justice reform while calling for a continued path to even more changes.

“We believe that these policy changes constitute a natural extension of that progress.”

Stephanie Morales spoke with 10 On Your Side about her involvement with the group.

“We truly recognize and acknowledge that we are at a turning point where our country has awakened,” Morales said. “Just because a system has traditionally done something does not mean we should keep going down that path.”

These changes will reduce recidivism and the number of people incarcerated for non-violent crimes, according to some officials.

Morales says she and her peers have used their own discretion as elected officials to impact change, but they need the legislature’s help.

“We don’t want families disjointed. We don’t want people unable to provide,” Morales said. “This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. We have so much to correct and I, and my colleagues, are committed to seek that transformative change within.”

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