Public Comments for 01/05/2021 Crime Commission, Virginia State
Last Name: Crittendon Locality: Richmond

Good afternoon, I'm writing to lift the importance of the School Equity and Staffing Act (SES) for the 2021 legislative session. The Virginia Board of Education made a series of recommendations in 2019, and again in 2020, that, if met, would amount to adequate and much-improved funding for Virginia's preK-12 schools. The SES Act would fund these recommendations. This is critical, not only because school funding still has yet to be fully restored to pre-Great Recession levels, but also because schools and students are facing unprecedented challenges right now. Students from low-income households, students of color, students with disabilities and language barriers especially, due to historical inequities, continue to face greater challenges in their learning environments and, often, insufficient resources to help them soar. Students have the right to a high-quality education. At current levels of school funding, our Commonwealth simply doesn’t give them an opportunity to achieve their full potential. The SES is critical legislation for a critical time. Virginia has the means to improve school funding through untapped state reserves. Gov. Northam's proposed budget includes another $650m to go into the reserves. I ask that lawmakers prioritize school funding this legislative session and fund the SES Act. Doing so would channel much-needed resources to high-poverty schools, boost funding for more school counselors at a time of great emotional turmoil for students, increase funding for English Learner instructors, and both remove the cap placed on support positions in schools and provide more funding for these positions, which are declining at a time when they're needed most. Our students can't wait for us to act. Thank you for your time.

Last Name: Davis Organization: Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking Locality: Powhatan

Amanda Davis, Trafficking Survivor Advocate Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Vice President, Survivor Affairs Testimony in Support of Legislation Similar to House Bill, HB1033 from Virginia General Assembly Session 2020 How does having a criminal record affect me? I was coerced and threatened with intimidation and threats of harm to come to my children with proof that they knew where they resided if I did not comply with my trafficker. I was either beaten or I had to go in Best Buys and Targets with foil lined bags to retrieve items that a local pawn shop owner gave in a list to my abuser every day. That was the only alternative option if I refused to sleep with the men that were sent to my hotel room in exchange for money. During this time, I received several grand larceny charges that are to this day on my record. Its not always the question of how trafficking victims could have committed these crimes unwillingly. It should be how come we didn’t step in during these crimes and rescue them. I know for myself, at some point, I became more than willing to commit these crimes praying that this time might be the time we get caught and I’ll be rescued and reunited with my family. Grand larceny is a barrier crime in VA, even to work in positions where I would not handle money. Unless a company is sympathetic to trafficking survivors, its challenging to find employment I have fought every hurtle to only face more. Renting a home is almost impossible unless a private landlord that does not do a background check. The pandemic has only made this worse because the market is different, and homes go quickly so higher standards are being set. I currently live in a home that is smaller than my family’s needs because we are being turned down due to my background. I was incarcerated for my crimes and although I was able to regain custody of my children, I was incarcerated with many women that I knew for a fact were trafficked that were not as lucky. My mother kept my youngest daughter through this trial of mine, but I watched many that did not have family that lost their kids forever because they were incarcerated and their children were adopted out. Because of my record, without relief to maintain a lifestyle of a normal citizen, drive a car, not lose licenses etc. and not have my entire paycheck garnished, I must pay a large monthly fee to the court. All the money spent is challenging enough, as I have to settle for less money because of my record from an employer, but every time I revisit the website to make this payment its like reliving my time in the courtrooms and reliving what happened to me. I do not have prostitution charges. My charges consist of grand larceny and possession of drugs so I get asked what that has to do with being trafficked. Everything! I was completely broken inside after what happened to me. I have to fight for healing everyday and fight an addiction that was formed to mask the trauma, which was also forced on me by my abusers. Our children have to face these trials as well. Criminal Record Relief, including for felonies like mine, would bring the ability to live a normal life in society without reliving past trauma; being able to get better fair housing; mean opportunities toward obtaining better paying jobs; and would mean a step into deeper healing from my trauma and the ability for our children to not have to relive what we did as we face the judgment of our records.

Last Name: Crawford Locality: Chesterfield

I'm concerned when there has been identity suppression and the individual spends years in prison.

Last Name: Gebriel Organization: FAMM Locality: Silver Spring, MD

Thank you to Chair Herring, Vice-Chair Edwards, and members of the Commission for the opportunity to testify on behalf of FAMM. FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates sentencing and prison policies that are individualized and fair, protect public safety, and preserve families. Repealing mandatory minimum sentences has been a part of FAMM’s mission since our creation in 1991. Our national membership includes families across the Commonwealth and their loved ones who are incarcerated. We support the steps Virginia state leaders are taking to reexamine the state’s mandatory sentencing laws, and we support the full repeal of all mandatory sentences in Virginia. Our opposition to mandatory minimums is rooted in the belief, which is backed by all credible evidence, that mandatory sentences do not deter or reduce crime. Instead, mandatory minimums earmark limited resources for incarceration that would be better used to implement proactive crime-reduction strategies. Mandatory minimums tie the hands of local courts that know their communities best and strip judges of the discretion to consider all of the relevant facts and circumstances about the crime and its impact on the community, or the person’s prior record, role, motive, age, or need for mental health or drug treatment. This one-size-fits-all sentencing scheme costs taxpayers a fortune, contributes to racial disparities in sentencing, and has unjust consequences. Take Matthew Mosher’s story as an example. He served in the Coast Guard for nine years, was a first responder during 9/11, and afterward, spent a month recovering human remains. Later, he assisted in rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. All of this left Matthew with severe PTSD, which led him to drug use. With addiction as a motivating factor, he robbed a convenience store one night with an unloaded “airsoft”-type BB gun. He is now serving 10 years, six of which are mandatory. Matthew has been behind bars for seven years. Since being incarcerated, Matthew became the first person to graduate from the Sustaining Offender Addiction Recovery program at Augusta Correctional Center, completed his reentry program, and has a home plan in place. He has only one fully functioning lung and a paralyzed diaphragm. He has suffered pneumonia five times in the last four years. Matthew, once a hero and now vulnerable to death by COVID, could be home and safe if not for mandatory minimums. These are the unintended yet devastating consequences of mandatory sentences: they give courts no flexibility to make meaningful distinctions at sentencing. Not all felonies are the same, not all people are the same, and not all cases are the same. If Virginia repeals its mandatory sentences, it will join over 30 states that have reformed or repealed their mandatory minimum sentences in the past two decades while maintaining public safety. Legislators across the country and the political spectrum have embraced evidence-based reforms to mandatory sentences and have seen reductions in crime rates and incarceration. Repealing mandatory sentences does not mean people go without accountability. It means judges would be able to decide appropriate sentences rather than apply one-size-fits-all punishments. It means families and communities would not be ripped apart for decades by unjust sentences. It means the state would use expensive prison resources wisely to increase public safety. Thank you for considering our views.

Last Name: Haggard Locality: Richmond

My name is Henry and I'm a sophomore at Freeman High School. Though I won't be able to attend this meeting, I would like the Commission to know that mandatory minimums are a dangerous overreach of the legislative branch. Someone who stole in order to feed his family should not get the same treatment as someone who stole in order to buy a PS5. I hope you'll understand how important context is when it comes to the law. Sincerely, Henry Haggard

Last Name: Bendtsen Organization: Shared Hope International Locality: D.C.

Dear Virginia State Crime Commission Members: Thank you for hearing and prioritizing policy discussions on strengthening access to justice for survivors of sex trafficking. Shared Hope International is a global, DC-based NGO centered on addressing the plight of child and youth sex trafficking victims by supporting federal and state lawmakers in devising meaningful solutions for increasing victim protections and preventing harm. Ten years ago, we launched the State Report Card project (formerly the “Protected Innocence Challenge” project) to assess the status of state anti-trafficking laws and mobilize legislative progress. Since 2011, we have called on states, including Virginia, to recognize any young person engaged in commercial sex as a victim of sex trafficking, not a “prostitute” or “delinquent youth.” However, until victims of child and adult sex trafficking are protected from punitive responses for offenses committed as a result of trafficking victimization, the state must consider targeted post-conviction relief mechanisms to ensure unjust experiences of criminalization do not prevent access to safety, healing, and long-term success. Presently, survivors have limited access to such relief. Specifically, minors under 18 may have their records automatically destroyed only after a post-adjudication or conviction waiting period of five years and if the underlying adjudication is not for an offense that, if committed by an adult, would constitute a felony. Adult survivors of trafficking have even more limited options; adults may have records of arrest expunged only when: (1) the adult has filed a petition; and (2) the adult was acquitted, found not guilty, or the charge was dismissed. Adults may have records of conviction expunged only when the person was a victim of identity theft and the court finds that he or she did not actually commit the offense. It is evident, as stated by Justice Forward Virginia, that the state has “some of the most restrictive expungement laws in the country.” This is especially debilitating for survivors of trafficking who, in pursuit of safety, wellbeing, and healing, face insurmountable barriers as a result of delinquency or criminal records obtained as a result of their victimization. We commend the Commission for considering broad reforms to expand post-conviction opportunities for all Virginians living with juvenile and criminal records. However, we respectfully request the Commission members to pay special attention to survivors of trafficking and, in developing avenues to post-conviction relief and justice, ensure that such avenues are appropriate for the harm experienced, the unique challenges and obstacles faced, and the historical trauma and harm often encountered within punitive systems. At a minimum, in developing recommendations for the legislature, post-conviction relief should be accessible, affordable, and victim-centered. As the Commission considers critical post-conviction and adjudication relief mechanisms, we respectfully request consideration for policies that prevent the need for such relief. Ideally, justice is served before a remedy is required. Shared Hope’s Seeking Justice report and 2019 addendum (attached) provides an in-depth analysis on the need for such a process and provides examples of strong, non-criminalization and immunity protections. Respectfully, Shared Hope’s Policy Team

Last Name: Judy Locality: Madison (County)

I am a Virginia attorney (VSB # 73088), currently employed as an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney (in a jurisdiction not represented by the "progressive prosecutors" group). I have also worked as a defense attorney in private practice (3 years), as a public defender (6 years) and served as a magistrate within our judicial branch; my years of experience include law practice in areas from Virginia Beach to the Shenandoah Valley. I'm writing to encourage the Commission (and, through it, the General Assembly) to strongly consider reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, at least it applies to lower-level or nonviolent offenses, and especially as it applies to crimes related to drug distribution and gun possession. In my experience the familiar criticism of mandatory sentencing -- that it is used to compel guilty pleas -- is 100% accurate. As a defense attorney I was obliged to convey plea offers to my clients, and give an honest assessment of the risks attending each option. I was compelled to explain things to some young clients in a way that led them to plead guilty and go to prison despite protesting their innocence. One or two stand out in my memory more than a decade later: I feel certain they pleaded guilty to felony offenses they did not commit, in order to avoid mandatory sentences of 5 years in prison. It was my job to help them take that option, if they chose it, no matter my qualms. As a prosecutor I regularly am aware of the leverage mandatory sentencing gives me to dictate outcomes. It is a quantum of power I would gladly see reduced or removed. The problem with guilty pleas entered under pressure (to avoid the risk of far worse outcomes) is that by definition they avoid the adversarial process of a trial -- and that process is what we tell ourselves ensures the emergence of the truth. Judges will retain the authority to sentence offenders, sometimes quite harshly, according to their true culpability. And prosecutors will retain immense power over various aspects of the criminal justice system, from charging decisions to plea offers. I have lost count of the number of times I've talked with other attorneys about the criminal laws being a "one-way ratchet." That ratchet has given inordinate power to one segment of our CJ system, and (speaking for myself) I believe it has led to excess incarceration for nonviolent offenses, among other harms. There will be no way for the Assembly to act on this issue without some criticism; nonetheless I encourage you all to make a serious effort to make some needed adjustments to the status quo. Sincerely, Donald G. Judy

Last Name: Watkins Organization: Augusta Correctional Center Locality: Martinsville

The inmates are not being tested every week The inmates are not being separated to be quarantined. They are not feeding properly, especially diabetics diets. Raw hot dogs, cabbage and boiled eggs every day. They aren't getting the medical care that they need

Last Name: Turner Organization: Valley Justice Coalition Locality: ROCKINGHAM

Mandatory minimums have given legislators from 30 or more years ago the legal right to make decisions about future cases. Cases they could have known nothing about. One size does not fit all in terms of sentencing. It's necessary to look at the person and the circumstances surrounding the crime. The judges are not allowed to exercise their discretion and prosecutors have too much leverage and have been given extraordinary powers. Since there are sentencing guidelines, why are mandatory minimums needed? With no parole, mandatory minimums have produced excessive sentencing. There is no evidence that they work and plenty of evidence that they harmful, especially in terms of racial equity. Governor Northam has said that he would not sign any future mandatory minimums bills. And their repeal has the support of Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice who represent 42% of the State's population. Please recommend the repeal of mandatory minimums and make it RETROACTIVE. Thank you.

Last Name: Lewis Locality: Fajardo, PR

My name is Lisandra Lewis and I've a loved one incarcerated. He was incarcerated at the age of19 years old, January 1995 no probation or parole. He was advised by he appointed council to take a Alfor plea in two felony counts of maiming and carjacking. The Judge give him 40years mandatory sentence 20 years for each count, there was no DNA or forensic evidence to tight him those allegations. One of the witnesses was co defendant who later recanted his testimony through an affidavit. They claim at the time that he drove the vehicle in question when he did not know how to drive (all detailed information can be find of his transcripts) He has served 26 years, with no probation or parole and having a low income family his options to fight for his freedom was limited and it still is. He has been certified in many areas obtained jobs skills has a strong support system by his family he is ready to re entry society. But, how? low income family as minority no probation or parole and the laws that has been passed don't benefit him. Now, we talk about why we have mass incarceration I just gave an example of that a man with a lengthy sentence with no visible chance to freedom even when he has proven to be a different man ready to be a productive member of society. Some laws just apply to Inmates that have less than a year, how about the innocents or those who truly has served a long time in prison. Of course this has to be evaluated in a case by case scenario. The bill about the earning credits apply just to some The fish back law same and while this has given the chance to some the reality of mass incarceration is more deeper then that . Here is another reason the tax payers are the ones being directly affected by it. I don't condone any criminal activity However, to eliminate mass incarceration we must give people second chances. If is not rape or murder why not give whoever had proven to be ready to re entry to society another chance. Understanding the safety of our communities it is imperative to monitored those who are release and give them the tools to re entry successfully back to society. We have currently this pandemic in some institutions tuberculosis they are still human beings and they health are in stake. There is a lot of facts still to be considered however, it is time to take action and release some of the inmates that either are innocent or have lengthy sentences. If not a immediate release at least through probation or parole at least reinstate parole or probation to those who don't have it giving them a chance yearly to submit for it and obtained their freedom.

Last Name: Lewis Locality: Virginia Beach

My name is Lisandra Lewis my husband is currently serving a 40 years mandatory sentence (maiming and car jacking) which was a result of a plea bargain offered to him by his council. He was 19 years old, there where no forensics evidence or DNA that linked him to the crime. One of the witnesses was his co defendant who later recanted his testimony (affidavit) He has served 26 years he was sentenced on 1995 no probation or parole. He has been certified throughout the years in many areas he has obtained different job skills and is mentoring other inmates. He has a strong support system a job and family waiting for him including his children and grandchildren. My question is when enough is enough? This man don’t have any venues to pursue his freedom but clemency. Fish back law doesn’t apply to him because he was sentenced with a Judge. The earning credits bill only give him 4 days, we are a low income family we can’t afford a lawyer. Mass incarceration is due to this type of cases where there is innocent people incarcerated with no hope. Lengthy sentences is another reason and putting away people for things they could’ve been taking care of out in society with different programs. Mass incarceration is a mental and physical problem for those who have proven they are ready to re entry society. Now, with the covid19 and in some institutions tuberculosis is another alarming issue. People deserve second chances not only those who have a year left this should be looking at case by case scenario. You’ve people with lengthy sentences all the doors closed for them there is a lot to work in the criminal system in Virginia and other states. They are human beings and 26 years for example is a life sentence for most of them and their families. Tax payers paying a huge amount of money to support them we have to see also what is doing to society. I’m against any criminal activity however if is not rape or murder why they can’t have a second chance. Let me give you an example a person is sentenced for possession of drugs lets say they give him 5 years first or second offense he goes in the prison system which everyday for any simple reason they can lose their lives. Now you have this person instead of getting help in society surrounded by those who never care to change and this person has to learn how to survive not to be harm don’t you think that person will learn worst habits than the ones they went in for.?? They can be all the programs in the world but if you have people with lengthy sentences that deserved a second chance why not give it t to them.?? Society needs to be safe and the prison system believe it or not isn’t helping to bring upstanding citizens to our communities. Mass incarceration is a non stop problem and it can be resolved not overnight of course but carefully evaluating each case and give the prisoners more options to re enter society and be a productive citizen. Let’s start making changes with actions not just words. Mass incarceration has to stop period.

End of Comments