Public Comments for 01/27/2021 Courts of Justice - Criminal Subcommittee
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.

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

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