Public Comments for 01/27/2021 Courts of Justice - Criminal Subcommittee
HB1759 - Personal appearance by 2-way electronic video/audio communication; at or after trial before judge.
No Comments Available
HB1801 - Disposing of litter; penalty.
Last Name: Mahaney Locality: Midlothian

H.B.1801--increasing the fine so substantially will place unmanageable burdens on the poor and struggling population. Community service (picking up litter) is a much better solution to the problem and individuals can perform it where transportation is not a burden. H.B. 2047 - the entire circumstances surrounding a crime need to be investigated - some may call for mental health assistance vs. incarceration. There must be discretion used. H.B. 2258 - another bureaucratic nightmare? another registry? Are they really effective? Studies would indicate they are not. H.B. 2303 - the disparate impact of current drug laws among communities of color needs to change. This has led to an severe mass incarceration problem. We have got to redirect our efforts as a society to rehabilitating and assisting unacceptable behaviors versus thinking additional laws (and subsequently incarceration) are the answer. Empirical studies have shown this to be a very ineffective way of deterring criminal behavior, all the while destroying families and perpetuating the problem. It's time for a paradigm shift.

HB2010 - Earned sentence credits; rate at which sentence rates may be earned, prerequisites.
Last Name: Mahaney Locality: Midlothian

H.B.1801--increasing the fine so substantially will place unmanageable burdens on the poor and struggling population. Community service (picking up litter) is a much better solution to the problem and individuals can perform it where transportation is not a burden. H.B. 2047 - the entire circumstances surrounding a crime need to be investigated - some may call for mental health assistance vs. incarceration. There must be discretion used. H.B. 2258 - another bureaucratic nightmare? another registry? Are they really effective? Studies would indicate they are not. H.B. 2303 - the disparate impact of current drug laws among communities of color needs to change. This has led to an severe mass incarceration problem. We have got to redirect our efforts as a society to rehabilitating and assisting unacceptable behaviors versus thinking additional laws (and subsequently incarceration) are the answer. Empirical studies have shown this to be a very ineffective way of deterring criminal behavior, all the while destroying families and perpetuating the problem. It's time for a paradigm shift.

HB2047 - Criminal proceedings; consideration of mental condition and intellectual, etc.
Last Name: Fetter Locality: James City County

I write in strong support of this bill. Too many people with intellectual or developmental disabilities get caught up in the criminal justice system because, beyond an insanity plea, there is no way for the defense to submit evidence that would call the defendant's mens rea into question during the guilt phase of a trial in Virgnia. This does not give the jury a full picture of the defendant, and in many cases, it leads to the defendant being wrongfully convicted. This is a commonsense reform. We are behind the times in the Commonwealth relative to other states; that needs to change.

Last Name: Harrison Organization: LRIDD - Legal Reform for the Intellectually & Developmentally Disabled Locality: Midlothian

I speak in support of HB2047 both as the parent of an autistic young man who was caught up in the criminal justice system, and as Director of Communications for LRIDD - Legal Reform for the Intellectually & Developmentally Disabled. The court must be informed whether or not an individual has sufficient understanding of the charged offense. Expert testimony is a necessity if the goal is a fair outcome and true justice. Bail is crucial for ID/DD defendants. This vulnerable population is very limited in their ability to comprehend plea deals. Also, their mental state while incarcerated is much more likely to suffer greatly due to sensory overwhelm and anxiety that is common with developmental disabilities such as autism. Bail allows for necessary preparation and the assurance of due process.

Last Name: Kanoyton Organization: Virginia State Conference NAACP Locality: Hampton

The Virginia State Conference support HB 2047

Last Name: Tolley Locality: Henrico

The disproportionate percent of individuals with mental illness, individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or individuals with developmental disabilities, including autistic individuals in prisons and jails is not because they commit more crimes than other individuals. By not allowing information about their disabilities from the time they are accused of a crime, their rights are ignored either intentionally (if the disability is evident) or unintentionally for those whose disabilities are not as evident. Yes to this bill will provide a more just system where individuals are not wrongly convicted when they didn't have the mental state required for the charged offense and didn't understand their rights or the procedures and/or were easily manipulated into a plea agreement out of fear of something worse. Please pass this bill.

Last Name: Lloyd Organization: Richmond Raceway Locality: Henrico

On behalf of the Richmond Raceway, we want to express opposition to HB 2047 as introduced. While recognizing the issues behind the origin of the bill, as an large event venue, assigning direct liability for the actions taken by contractors, particularly on-duty or off-duty police officers providing security at our facility, will force us to rely on private contractors or other methods for event security. In conversations with our corporate risk management team, this direct liability would make the use of officers uninsurable. We look forward to working with Delegate Bourne and other stakeholders towards a more appropriate solution that allows for the continued use of police officers without the liability provisions created through this bill.

Last Name: Eugene Oliver Organization: Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Locality: Harrisonburg

My name is Eugene Oliver and I am President of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. I was unable to sign up to speak for the evening session today, but wanted to express our support for the following bills and a brief reasoning as to why: HB 1936 - The Robbery statute as it is now is overly broad and could lead to life sentences for any amount of force combined with a larceny. By establishing degrees of robbery, this bill will lead to more equitable results and that the punishment received more accurately reflects the severity of the offense. HB 2038 - We believe it is important that individuals are not needlessly locked up on technical violations. We wholeheartedly support this bill as a fairer and more equitable way of handling probation violations and issues surrounding the suspension of sentences. HB 2047 - The current law is extremely restrictive as to when information about mental health can be introduced. By allowing mental health evidence when it goes to guilt or innocence or when it would otherwise be relevant as to a defendant's mental state. HB 2290 - In eliminating subsequent enhanced penalties on misdemeanor larcenies, this bill fixes an often seen unjust result where an individual picks up a jail sentence or a felony conviction for a de minimis theft or other larceny. By repealing 18.2-104 and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences or the possibility of a felony conviction, we would be allowing discretion to return in how courts treat these charges and avoiding excessive punishments for thefts that are deemed as non-felonious in their value. Thank you in advance for your consideration of our position on these bills and we ask that you support these bills and report them out of committee.

Last Name: Thayer Locality: Arlington

Virginia has the power and momentum to fix disparities in the criminal justice system and provide better support to communities. These bills will go a long way in addressing those and I encourage all to support them. HB 2038: Probation was originally intended to help people successfully transition from incarceration to the community, but has often served as a no-win situation that ensures their failure and return to prison. 51% of VA prison admissions were a result of parole or probation violations in 2016. 51%! Probation should be about helping people, not an excuse to further punish people trying to right their lives. Let’s get supervision conditions tailored to the individual and incentivize positive behavior and completion of recidivism-reducing programs. HB 2047: Leaning on the Stamper v. Commonwealth reasoning completely disrespects mentally ill Virginians and ignores everything we have learned in the 35 years since. Further, it violates an accused’s Constitutional right to a full-throated defense. Let’s enable juries to consider all the facts, including where mental health is relevant by supporting HB 2047. HB 2286: In Virginia, our pretrial system leads to people, especially poor people, being held unnecessarily for days before they can be released simply because they are not appointed a lawyer in a timely manner. By allowing/ensuring that individuals have an attorney when they first appear in front of a judge, bail can be considered immediately, in turn reducing additional and unnecessary time that a person - who has not been convicted - is being held in jail. That way people who aren’t a flight risk or a risk to themselves or others can return to their homes, reducing the overall negative impact on their lives. Pretrial detention costs the Commonwealth more money, and leads to 4x greater likelihood of being sentenced to jail, 3x longer jail sentences as well as 3x greater likelihood of being sentenced to prison, 2x longer prison sentences, and overall worse life outcomes. (NLADA, USAPP) Thank you very much for your consideration of these bills.

Last Name: Champion Organization: Virginia Autism Project Locality: FAIRFAx

Please support HB 2047. We will be seeing more and more individuals with a diagnosis of Autism as they age into adulthood. Please allow this information to be presented to the Courts and the Judges and the Commonwealth attorney to consider. The cute 6 years olds we see today in our 1/38 population of an autism diagnosis will be adults in Virginia without social service supports and necessary medical and mental health supports. Please don't keep punishing them for their mental health and medical condition they can't control. Thank you, Teresa L. Champion, Virginia Autism Project.

Last Name: Harrison Organization: LRIDD Legal Reform for the Intellectually & Developmentally Disabled Locality: Chesterfield County

Intellectual and developmental disabilities exist within all races and socioeconomic levels. The deficits in communication and social awareness significantly impairs the mental state required to grasp criminal proceedings. Certainly, bail is necessary to educate and prepare the defendant for court. Not to mention the impact that being held in jail has on those with the sensory issues that typically accompany a developmental disability such as autism. I am in support of this bill as both a parent of an autistic son who did not have benefit of a bill such as HB2047, and also as Director of Communications for LRIDD. My son's experiences incarcerated have left him a diagnosis of PTSD that he now struggles with daily.

Last Name: Beadnell Organization: The Arc of Northern Virginia Locality: Arlington

The Arc of Northern Virginia strongly supports this bill. We frequently get contacts from families torn apart when a loved one with a developmental disability is charged with a crime, often stemming directly from challenges the person has related to their disability. This bill would allow that role that disability played in any illegal actions to be considered, which would be both the ethical thing to do and keep with the spirit of a justice system intent on actual fairness and justice.

Last Name: Kelmar Organization: Legal Reform for Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled (LRIDD) Locality: Richmond

My name is Brian Kelmar. I am the Chairman of national nonprofit profit called (LRIDD) Legal Reform for people with Intellectual and Developmentally disabled based here in VA. We represent families here in Virginia and throughout the country who have similar stories like my autistic son whose life has been destroyed in the criminal justice system. People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities are up to 7 times more likely to be caught up in criminal justice, yet no evidence suggest they commit crime at a higher rate than the general population. Virginia has worked hard to eliminate mental institutions, but instead of providing supports for mental illness and developmental disabilities we have filled the void with prisons. Unfortunately, we are of the leading states in the nation for a school to prison pipeline for the developmentally disabled and even worse for persons of color with a disability. We allow mental illness and drug abuse to be considered in the criminal justice system, but we do not consider developmental disabilities. Developmentally disabled should be allowed equality under the law as set by the American Disabilities Act. The courts should be allowed the opportunity to hear all the information for each person’s particular case throughout the criminal justice process. One size does not fit all. We support this bill.

Last Name: Tolley Locality: Henrico

Please support HB2047 to make the criminal justice system more just. Not allowing an individuals "invisible" disabilities to be considered throughout the process has allowed grave injustices to occur. Autistic individuals, individuals with intellectual disabilities and individuals experiencing mental health issues are over-represented in jails and prisons. Prison has been referred to as the largest mental health facility - not because people receive appropriate treatment, but because mentally ill people, unable to defend themselves due to their mental illness are ripe for exploitation by overzealous Law Enforcement Officers and Prosecutors. While the U.S. Census reports that one in 5 Americans (20 percent) have a disability, the Bureau of Justice found that 32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of jail inmates report at least one disability. https://ldaamerica.org/lda_today/disability-and-criminal-justice-reform/ This report also indicated that people with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime than people without disabilities. A third to a half of all use-of-force incidents with police involve a disabled civilian. Individuals with disabilities are being criminalized rather than supported. This bill will help change this. This doesn't mean disabled individuals will be given a free pass, it just means that consideration of the impact of their disability on their actions, their capacity to give consent for questioning, their ability to understand the ramifications of plea agreements, and their intent will be considered.

Last Name: McConnell Organization: Law Professor, University of RIchmond School of Law Locality: Richmond

HB 2047 would go a long way towards promoting equity and fairness in proceedings involving a defendant with intellectual or mental disabilities. As it stands now, the only time this gets consideration is either at sentencing or in negotiations with prosecutors when the defense attorney is diligently investigating the case and obtains documentation of intellectual disability or mental illness that they take to the prosecutor to advocate for leniency. If the defense attorney doesn't do their due diligence, which they sometimes do not given the incredibly low rate of compensation for court-appointed cases, or if the prosecutor is not interested in the mitigation, then it has no impact on the outcome. This bill would help reduce the arbitrariness inherent in a system that does not include diminished capacity as a defense, as many other states do. Thank you.

Last Name: Kelly Organization: MPAC Locality: Baltimore

CURRENT VIRGINIA LAW prohibits arrest or prosecution of certain drug-related offenses only to an individual who seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for himself or another individual or who is experiencing an overdose when another individual seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for him. HB 1821 expands these protections to include prohibiting arrest and prosecution of other individuals, acting in good faith, who render medical assistance during an overdose. This bill will allow individuals who need assistance with advocating for special services for treatment versus being incarcerated and not getting the help that is needed. The system needs to understand that information and knowledge of resources about overdose awareness is vital to the community at large.

Last Name: Tolley Locality: Henrico

If we intend for the criminal justice system to be "just" and fair, there must be consideration of an individual's mental health/ mental illness and the presence of diagnoses or conditions that impact brain function - including intellectual and developmental disabilities (including autism). This must be considered at every step of the process from the first time the police communicate with the individual. The system becomes an "injustice system" when individuals with impaired cognitive, reasoning, executive functioning, emotional regulation abilities are assumed to be fully competent to give informed consent, to understand the proceedings, to understand and respond to questions, including those that are meant to manipulate and/or coerce. There are way too many instances of ruined lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens from overzealous prosecution of offenses the individuals either didn't commit, didn't intentionally commit, or didn't realize were against the law. The statistics of the percentage of incarcerated individuals who are mentally ill and/or autistic and/or are intellectually disabled are shocking and shameful. Please pass this bill. Thank you. Beth Tolley

HB2168 - Illegal gambling; skill games, enforcement by localities and Attorney General, civil penalty.
Last Name: WILLIAMS Organization: Virginia Fraternal Order of Police Locality: Chesapeake

We support this bill. Please consider passing HB 2168

HB2258 - Substantial Risk Order Registry; maintenance by State Police.
Last Name: Mahaney Locality: Midlothian

H.B.1801--increasing the fine so substantially will place unmanageable burdens on the poor and struggling population. Community service (picking up litter) is a much better solution to the problem and individuals can perform it where transportation is not a burden. H.B. 2047 - the entire circumstances surrounding a crime need to be investigated - some may call for mental health assistance vs. incarceration. There must be discretion used. H.B. 2258 - another bureaucratic nightmare? another registry? Are they really effective? Studies would indicate they are not. H.B. 2303 - the disparate impact of current drug laws among communities of color needs to change. This has led to an severe mass incarceration problem. We have got to redirect our efforts as a society to rehabilitating and assisting unacceptable behaviors versus thinking additional laws (and subsequently incarceration) are the answer. Empirical studies have shown this to be a very ineffective way of deterring criminal behavior, all the while destroying families and perpetuating the problem. It's time for a paradigm shift.

HB2303 - Controlled substances; reduces penalty for possession of a Schedule I or II substance, penalties.
Last Name: Legge Organization: reclassify.org Locality: Culpeper

I read the fiscal impact statement today. I wish it would be more comprehensive. It doesn't take so much into consideration such as increased tax revenues from people having better jobs, less money spent on jails, courts, police, etc. People will have better access to housing, meaning children will be less likely to have poor educational outcomes from moving.

Last Name: Legge Organization: reclassify.org Locality: Culpeper

I read the fiscal impact statement today. I wish it would be more comprehensive. It doesn't take so much into consideration such as increased tax revenues from people having better jobs, less money spent on jails, courts, police, etc. People will have better access to housing, meaning children will be less likely to have poor educational outcomes from moving.

Last Name: McDermott Organization: Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) of Virginia Locality: Maidens

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a disease—NOT a crime. As an individual in sustained continuous recovery from SUD, I strongly support this bill. Drug defelonization is a critical step toward achieving rational drug policy that puts science & public health before punishment & incarceration. HB2303 is a sensible path forward that would reap both human & fiscal benefits, while protecting families & communities.

Last Name: Legge Organization: reclassify.org Locality: Culpeper

This is NOT about being nicer to drug users. This is about what kind of community you want to live in. Lifetime felony records for crimes that do not directly hurt anyone are counterproductive. People that are unable to take the kinds of jobs that they are best at reduce economic activity and reduce tax revenues. They also contribute to homelessness and housing instability. Housing instability have been shown to cause children to move from school to school that has negative outcomes on their future. Can anyone say that they community is better off by having lots of people in a permanent underclass?

Last Name: Evans Locality: Henrico

I believe that this law needs to be changed to help people that have a disease and not put a felony on there record because they hit a possession charge they need to also be sent to treatment not to jail. This would definitely help the population of people with addiction and help to stop the use and not just throw them in jail and then they get back out and don’t have any tools to use to go towards recovery so they just end up doing the same thing over and over.

Last Name: Durnil-Walker Locality: Winchester

I would like permission to watch this please.

Last Name: Phillips Organization: Mason And Partners - Empowered Communities Opioid Project Locality: Prince William County

To whom it may concern: My name is Michael Phillips Jr, a citizen of Virginia and a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and Community Health Navigator for George Mason University's Mason and Partners Clinic in Prince William County. The population I work with primarily suffers from Opioid Use Disorder, in addition to a variety of mental health challenges and other disabilities. Consequently, this same population is often involved with the criminal justice system for simple drug possession charges that ultimately lead to extended stays on probationary status which, in turn, become probation violations due to the chronic nature of this disease. If there is one thing I have learned as a person in recovery working with people in recovery, it is that no one chooses to be an addict. The American Society of Addiction Medicine, the National Institute of Health, and the Center for Disease Control all define addiction as a chronic relapsing disease of the brain. Those suffering from Substance Use Disorder are genetically predisposed to chemical dependency. One's environment can and will increase the risk of exacerbating the aforementioned biological factors. I believe this distorts the lens through which addiction is viewed, and thus stigma and miseducation develop as a result. A person is more than their disease; more than their disability. We owe it to the most stigmatized, most marginalized in our communities to treat this disorder using a harm-reduction approach, as opposed to a punitive one. Though HB2303 would not entirely eliminate barriers for those suffering from substance use disorders, it would most certainly be a step in the right direction. Barrier crimes are among the most prominent obstacles that people in recovery face on their individual roads to redemption. I speak not only for me, but also for my community, colleagues and peers when I say that this bill would positively impact the lives of people in recovery by drastically improving their quality of life, not just regarding health and wellness, but also socioeconomically, for what I believe are obvious reasons. If the former reason is not enough to pass this bill, then let the latter be, for the good of society. More felonies equates to less access to opportunity. More access to opportunity equals greater contribution to the workforce. I hereby declare my support of HB2303 and hope members of this committee will agree. In closing, I hope for the sake of progress we can consider treating substance use disorder as a medical issue, reserving clinical judgments and findings for healthcare professionals, removing such judgments from court rooms and judicial proceedings. This is the way forward. This is how we eliminate stigma, misunderstanding, and miseducation surrounding this disease. Thank you for your time.

Last Name: Liller Locality: Hanover

Please support this bill. I am fortunate to help people that are felons. These are good people that made some mistakes. They shouldn't have to pay for them the rest of their lives. Having a felony and trying to stay in recovery is hard. It is hard to find employment, you have WAY too many fines you need to pay, and then some just give up and use again. I am in long term recovery and I love to be able to help those with addiction just like me. It is so important to make change so our community will stop having so many overdoses. Thank you for your time!

Last Name: Jordan Organization: McShin Fndation Locality: Richmond

As a Board Member of McShin, I support HB2303. If our Governor wants to legalize controlled substance possession , it seems very reasonable to reduce the charge for possession from a felony to misdemeanor . A felony conviction is a harsh crime for what most know to be a health issue.

Last Name: Bayton Organization: The Mcshin Foundation Locality: Henrico

A felony for a person who suffers from SUD can be an extremely difficult thing to overcome. Gainful employment can be instrumental for a person who is striving to change their life & the barrier of a felony conviction can make things exponentially more difficult through the employment process. A person who strives to be better can easily lose hope when they have obstacles being constantly placed in their way & felonies for these people can divert focus from getting better to getting by, by any means. A hand up instead of a hand out can be the catalyst that inspires a person to turn a corner towards a rewarding life ... a felony conviction helps no one.

Last Name: John Shinholser Organization: The McShin Foundation Locality: Mechanicsville

The McShin Foundation supports this bill

Last Name: McDermott Organization: Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) of Virginia Locality: Maidens

HB2303 | As an an individual with over 29 years of sustained continuous recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD), I fully support this proposed legislation. Addiction is a disease. Further stigmatizing our citizens with felony charges for possessing user amounts of controlled substances amounts to weaponizing the criminal justice system, doing more long-term harm than good.

Last Name: Glod Organization: AFP Locality: Arlington

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony before the House Courts of Criminal Justice Subcommittee in support of House Bill 2303. My name is Greg Glod, and I am the Senior Criminal Justice Fellow for Americans for Prosperity. We are a grassroots organization dedicated to outreach, education, and advocacy on long-term solutions to the country’s biggest problems that prevent people from realizing their full potential. This necessarily includes effective reforms to our nation’s criminal justice system; one of the greatest existing barriers to realizing the American dream. We believe that an effective criminal justice system protects people and preserves public safety, respects human dignity, restores victims, removes barriers to opportunity for people with criminal records, and ensures equal justice for all under the law. For too long, Virginia has utilized ineffective and unnecessarily harsh penalties for simple possession of a controlled substance. While the negative impact of drug use cannot be ignored, our criminal justice system is woefully ill-equipped to effectively deal with substance use and addiction and has only exacerbated its negative consequences. By adopting HB 2303, Virginia can be better stewards of taxpayer dollars by focusing resources on higher-level criminal activity and invest in more robust alternatives to incarceration for those struggling with substance use; reduce racial disparities within our criminal justice system; limit the collateral consequences of a criminal record in order to increase reentry success and public safety; and follow the lead of other states across the political spectrum. We applaud the Virginia legislature for taking up such an important piece of legislation that will bring Virginia in line with so many other states. H.B. 2303 will bring about necessary change in how we treat substance use issues in a more effective manner. We look forward to supporting your leadership on this issue and are available to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Last Name: Fryett Locality: Prince William County

Individuals of simple drug possession should be diverted to mental health professionals for assessment and support. Addiction is not a crime.

Last Name: Conner Organization: The McShin Foundation Locality: Richmond

We must treat healthcare issues with healthcare solutions. Reclassifying simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor would allow those struggling with substance use disorder who are charged with simple possession to recover from their disease of addiction without the hurdles and lifelong barriers to a higher quality of life and ability to contribute to society that having a Felony on one's record puts in place. Strict punitive measures for a healthcare issue has already proven it hasn't done much to help in the fight against substance use disorder; let's try something different and reclassifying simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Last Name: Grant Organization: Mcshin foundation Locality: Henrico

My name is Matt and I’m 46 years old. I have struggled with substance use disorder for 35 years. I started getting in trouble with the police when I was 15. My last conviction was in early 2020. I have been convicted of 5 felonies. All of the charges were simple possession or paraphernalia for schedule 1 or 2 controlled substances. I have never been charged with any violent, sexual, or theft charges. As a felon I cannot hunt. I’m discriminated against in the workplace or sometimes before my application get reviewed. It has also created barriers to finding housing. I was addicted when I got caught with these substances or even just paraphernalia. On January 31 of 2021 I will have 1 year clean. I’m really trying to turn my life around and it would help if I had misdemeanor convictions instead of felonies. Thanks for your time.

Last Name: Mahaney Locality: Midlothian

H.B.1801--increasing the fine so substantially will place unmanageable burdens on the poor and struggling population. Community service (picking up litter) is a much better solution to the problem and individuals can perform it where transportation is not a burden. H.B. 2047 - the entire circumstances surrounding a crime need to be investigated - some may call for mental health assistance vs. incarceration. There must be discretion used. H.B. 2258 - another bureaucratic nightmare? another registry? Are they really effective? Studies would indicate they are not. H.B. 2303 - the disparate impact of current drug laws among communities of color needs to change. This has led to an severe mass incarceration problem. We have got to redirect our efforts as a society to rehabilitating and assisting unacceptable behaviors versus thinking additional laws (and subsequently incarceration) are the answer. Empirical studies have shown this to be a very ineffective way of deterring criminal behavior, all the while destroying families and perpetuating the problem. It's time for a paradigm shift.

Last Name: Tillem Organization: Journey House Foundation Locality: Glen Allen

I did 7 years in prison for pot. Conspiracy to distribute.. I was going in on weed with others and it got out of hand. The result was felonies, shun by community, brutality in prison, Tens of thousands of dollar spent to keep a non violent stoner locked up. I got the help I needed which was not prison, and overcame my addiction. Been clean 18 years. Been clean because I WANT TO BE. Not because I fear jail. Addiction is a mental health issue, not a harden criminal issue. Thanks for letting me share.

Last Name: Hammonds Organization: Peter’s Place RVA Locality: Richmond

I’m writing to say that I support this bill.

Last Name: Werger Organization: The Mcshin Foundation Locality: 23228

As an administrative assistant at The McShin Foundation, I find myself asking new members of the recovery community their intake questions on a daily basis. I encounter perhaps one new recovering user without a criminal record in a month. Most of these criminals are nonviolent offenders who came through the penal system simply for possession of paraphernalia charges. These people cannot be represented accurately in our current system because of the felonization of this non-violent crime. Disenfranchising somebody for a medical disorder such as addiction in my personal understanding is immoral.

Last Name: Sachs Organization: Faces and Voices of Recovery of Virginia Locality: Hanover County, Virginia

My name is Jordan Sachs and I am a person in recovery from Substance Use Disorder. I have 2 felonies on my record for simple possession charges and it makes it very hard for me to move forward in life. I have been drug and alcohol free for a few years now. As I move forward in my life, I don’t want my past haunting me, especially when it was mental health related. I don’t believe it’s fair. I am trying to get an apartment and can’t pass a background check.

Last Name: Mitchell Organization: The Virginia Recovery Advocacy Project Locality: Richmond

I am a person in recovery from a substance use disorder representing several recovery organizations and thousands of individuals throughout the Commonwealth. We strongly support HB 2303 that creates better drug policy for all Virginians. Reclassifying drug possession charges from felony charges to misdemeanor charges demonstrates Virginias commitment to treating the disease of addiction as a healthcare issue not a criminal justice issue. This bill brings Virginia drug policy in line with states such as Utah, Alaska, and Oklahoma. A felony conviction due to the disease of addiction creates unnecessary future barriers to employment, education, and housing opportunities. Additionally, a felony conviction often serves to exacerbate the underlying addiction by keeping individuals away from recovery healthcare solutions and placing them into jails and prisons. Healthcare issues require healthcare solutions. When we invest in healthcare solutions, we invest in stronger families, safer communities, and healthier citizens. Please support HB 2303 and support better drug policy in Virginia.

Last Name: Snodderly Locality: Henrico

I am urging the committee to approve HB 2303 which would reduce simple drug possession to a misdemeanor. This is a major step in ensuring Virginians adversely affected by Substance Use Disorder seek treatment and recovery without branding them for life and thus reducing the risk of reoffending.

Last Name: Ronquest Locality: Hanover

I would love to see this passed as I am tired of watching a healthcare problem being handled as a criminal problem

Last Name: Legge Organization: reclassify.org Locality: Culpeper

I strongly support this bill. This is no "left coast" measure that is designed to be nicer to drug users. This has been passed in 6 states including conservative Oklahoma, Utah, and Alaska. There is simply little evidence that draconian felony records deter many people from using drugs. They simply don't think they will be caught...and most don't. So the deterrence effect is essentially nil. Let's start with money. The latest official figures I've seen from 2018 were that over 4000 Virginians were convicted of felony drug possession. About half were given jail sentences totaling over 300,000 bed days at a cost estimated to be over $30M including jail time before sentencing or awaiting release on bail. Once they are released they have a life-debilitating felony record that reduces their chances of ever getting a good job. There are barriers to housing, education and public services. Their reduced income makes for reduced chances of stable relationships, so important to children's upbringing. There are a lot of bills that ask for new money. This bill actually saves money, builds stronger workforces and communities, increases tax revenues and likely reduces crime. One side benefit is that it will likely improve police/community relations. As a past CSB chair, I have seen that what we've been doing has not only not helped but has in many ways only made things worse. For further information see my website/blog at reclassify.org.

End of Comments