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April 7, 2014

"Billion Dollar Divide: Virginia's Sentencing, Corrections and Criminal Justice Challenge"

JPI reportThe title of this post is the title of a new report by the Justice Policy Institute, which was released last week, is available here, and is summarized via this press release.  Here are excerpts from the press release:

As Virginia lawmakers consider a budget that would see corrections spending surpass a billion dollars in general funds, a new report points to racial disparities, skewed fiscal priorities, and missed opportunities for improvements through proposed legislation, and calls for reforms to the commonwealth’s sentencing, corrections and criminal justice system.

According to Billion Dollar Divide Virginia’s Sentencing, Corrections and Criminal Justice Challenge, ... while other states are successfully reforming their sentencing laws, parole policies and drug laws, Virginia is lagging behind and spending significant funds that could be used more effectively to benefit public safety in the commonwealth....

According to the report, approximately 80 percent of the corrections budget is being spent on incarcerating people in secure facilities, while only about 10 percent of the budget is spent on supervising people in the community. Put another way, in 2010 for every dollar the Commonwealth of Virginia spent on community supervision, it spent approximately $13 on costs for those incarcerated. Other states have a better balance between prison spending, and supporting individuals in the community.

"Taxpayers' wallets – and more important, people's lives – are in jeopardy," said Marc Schindler, executive director of JPI. "Instead of planning to spend more than $1 billion on an ineffective corrections system, Virginia should be looking to policies that are being implemented successfully in other states to make wiser use of precious resources and get better public safety outcomes.”...

The report describes challenges facing Virginia’s sentencing, corrections and criminal justice system, including:

  • Worrisome racial and ethnic disparities in how the state deals with drugs and drug crimes: African Americans make up approximately 20 percent of the Virginia population, but comprise 60 percent of the prison population, and 72 percent of all people incarcerated for a drug arrest.  JPI has compiled information for the largest Virginia cities and counties that show the disparities in drug enforcement, and the latest data show Virginia’s drug arrest rates on the rise;
  • More people serving longer sentences and rising length-of-stay: The changes to Truth-in-Sentencing enacted in the 1990s eliminated parole, and reduced access to earned-time and good-time credits.  The commonwealth has added more mandatory minimums that have lengthened prison terms, and about one quarter of all of Virginia’s mandatory minimum sentences involve drug offenses.  Between 1992 and 2007, there has been a 72 percent increase in individuals serving time for drug offenses.  There has also been a substantial and very expensive increase in the number of elderly individuals incarcerated in Virginia, despite strong evidence that these individuals pose little threat to public safety....

April 7, 2014 at 10:39 AM | Permalink

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/ "and about one quarter of all of Virginia’s mandatory minimum sentences involve drug offenses." \

-- So, not much, though the "Justice Policy Institute" doesn't put it that way.

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 7, 2014 1:32:17 PM

JusticePolicy.com:
"Have innocent people been executed?

Yes - Error is much more common than most people imagine. While it is difficult to accurately estimate the number of innocent people who have been executed,
there is no doubt that innocent people have been executed for crimes they did not commit. We also know that 111 people (and counting) have been exonerated from death row since 1973."

Sounds like an airtight case, such as this one from FL:

Another “innocent” one, Peter et al.
Here’s the facts on #8 of your 19 “innocent” gits:
in Florida:
Jesse Tafero
Tafero challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him of murder, but the evidence against him is overwhelm-
ing. In addition to the eyewitness testimony,
 bullets removed from the victims match the gun in Tafero's possession at his arrest. !.!.!
 We do not accept Tafero's contention that Rhodes' testi-mony was unbelievable in that Rhodes actually did the shooting.
 Rhodes' testimony is corrobated by both the physical evidence and the other eyewitnesses' testimony.
 Additionally, both truck drivers noticed Rhodes' hands in the air when the first shots were fired. -- 403 So.2d 355

-----------------Complaints
“One issue (2) claims that Tafero's voluntary intoxication at the time of the
crime negated specific intent, thereby rendering his conviction
invalid. Other issues (5, 6, and 7) claim that a due process
violation
occurred in the use of a certain witness' testimony,
that the death penalty is imposed in an arbitrary and
discriminatory manner
, and that the trial court denied Tafero's
right to proceed pro se
. Tafero attacked his counsel's effectiveness … Tafero v. State, No. 70,422

-----------------More Complaints (similarly impotent)
| Amnesty International | Just like the lethal injection, the electric chair is far from foolproof. In 1990, Jesse Joseph Tafero suffered three jolts of electricity
before he stop breathing, during which time six-inch flames erupted from his head. --Emily Briggs, 3/31/14
| claimyourinnocence.wordpress.com | Prior to his release, Rhodes confessed several times to lying about his involvement in the shooting. Even Sunny Jacobs
[Tafero's wife] claimed that Rhodes, not Tafero, carried out the shooting as well. --3/4/12

| Sun Sentinel | Rhodes says his first story -- the one he told at the trials of Tafero and Jacobs -- was true. Rhodes says they did the shooting, not him. – 7/20/92

| ACLU |Science has not determined how long an electrocuted individual retains consciousness, but in May l990, Florida prisoner Jesse Tafero gurgled,
and his head bobbed while ashes fell from it, for four minutes. -- American Civil Liberties Union Briefing Paper Number 8

| San Francisco Chronicle | 'Exonerated' blurs facts about death penalty case … It is not surprising that "The Exonerated" includes Tafero's story, for his case is thorny
and his death raises a terrible specter: an innocent man in a botched electrocution. But in reality, the facts of Tafero's conviction are vastly more complicated than
"The Exonerated" makes them out to be, and I found the play troubling. If those of us who are against capital punishment cannot tell the truth about innocence,
how can we expect anyone to believe us at all?

And Tafero's own lawyers argued in court that only Jacobs could have started the shooting … the lawyers wrote, in a brief I found at the Florida State Archives.
Another fact missing from the play is that Tafero, too, was a convict, on parole from a 1967 rape in which he held two women hostage. Yet another is that after
Rhodes confessed, he recanted [returning to original testimony that Jacobs started the firing, and that Tafero killed both officers]. --Ellen McGarrahan, 12/7/03

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 7, 2014 2:36:48 PM

The problem faced by anyone who wants to change Virginia's criminal laws is that they appear to be effective. Crime rates in Virginia are amongst the lowest in the country and in every list you see the other states in the top five are low population states. See the second list here as an example.

Before anyone points out that correlation does not equal causation, let me say that these figures are generally consistent and make it hard for you to hide behind that pithy phrasing. When a system is working, it falls to the detractors to prove that their system could work better. The question becomes, would your changes move Virginia from 47th on the on the per capita list of crimes per state to 48th, 49th, or 50th?

Posted by: Ken | Apr 10, 2014 8:32:48 AM

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