RICHMOND, Va. — As the coronavirus hits correctional facilities, the ACLU is calling for the release of some nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks and keep residents and staff safe.
The Virginia ACLU submitted a letter to the governor, along with the executive guidance document. The document focuses on reducing the overall populations in local and state custodial facilities, including reducing the intake of people. The organization called for an immediate release of all people identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as at-risk for COVID-19, such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, whose sentences would end in the next two years. The ACLU also wants the governor to begin a process of immediate release for anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, anyway.
There are a limited number of eligible parole cases that can be reviewed for early release, according to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, who said at a press conference Monday that an expeditious review is “still ongoing.”
“There are a number of challenges because by the code we have no parole in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Moran said. “It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996.”
Moran said the parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals and has expedited release of parole for those already paroled, in effort to eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual.
Three inmates at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. One inmate at the Central Virginia Correctional Unit 13 for women has tested positive for COVID-19, according to VADOC. Four VADOC employees and one contractor have also tested positive for the virus. As of April 3, the Virginia Department of Health reports 2,012 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 46 deaths. From March 27 to April 3, 1,552 cases were confirmed, or 77% of all cases since the state’s first case was reported on March 7.
“We need strong leadership that will move us more quickly toward a criminal legal system that is safe for everyone,” ACLU Executive Director Claire Gastañaga said in a press release. “To do this, we must jettison the ‘tough on crime’ hyperbole and recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the way we choose to use the criminal legal system to address issues of poverty, income inequality and addiction.”
Almost two weeks ago the Governor announced measures to battle the coronavirus outbreak among residents and staff, such as modifying sentences, diverting offenders from serving jail terms, utilizing home electronic monitoring and reducing low-risk individuals being held without bail.
Elliott B. Bender, founder of Bender Law Group in Richmond and president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the governor’s measures are great in theory “for the safety of all of us.” However, he is concerned that they are not being implemented consistently and completely. Consistency and getting all branches of government on the same page are important in this process, according to Bender.
Moran said state code mandates the victims involved need to be notified of a prisoner’s potential early release.
“And you have to provide victims time to weigh in on the decision,” Moran said. “And that is an ongoing process as well.”
To combat the virus, visitation and volunteer activities remain closed at correctional facilities, according to the VADOC. People entering VADOC correctional facilities will be screened using thermometers. In addition, the department ordered 112,000 additional bars of soap. Virginia Correctional Enterprises, which employs incarcerated people to produce a variety of goods, is now manufacturing about 30,000 sneeze and cough guard masks per day for inmates and staff, according to VADOC. All employees must assess their risk on a daily basis prior to work.
Also, there are measures taken to ensure safety once a person leaves a VADOC facility. All inmates leaving a correctional facility are screened for COVID-19 on the day of their release, according to VADOC.
By Rodney Robinson
Capital News Service
Acting US Attorney Bubar announces over $3.4 million in Justice Department grants to combats addiction crisis in western district
Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar today announced awards of more than $3.4 million in Department of Justice grants to fight drug abuse and addiction in the Western District of Virginia. The grants were awarded by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and are part of more than $341 million going to communities nationwide.
“The addiction crisis has taken an enormous toll on America’s families and communities, eroding public health, threatening public safety and claiming tens of thousands of lives year after year,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Through comprehensive measures taken by this administration, we have been able to curtail the opioid epidemic, but new and powerful drugs are presenting exceptional challenges that we must be prepared to meet. The Justice Department’s substantial investments in enforcement, response, and treatment will help us overcome these challenges and work towards freeing Americans from abuse and addiction.”
Illegal drugs and illicit drug use have claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans since the turn of the century. Powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl are exacting an enormous toll on families and communities, and emergence in the use of methamphetamines and other psychostimulants is drawing drug traffickers and driving up overdose rates. Three years ago, President Trump declared a Public Health Emergency and initiated a whole-of-government approach dedicated to ending this national tragedy. The Department of Justice has invested unprecedented levels of funding in combating the addiction crisis. The awards announced today build on those earlier investments.
“If we hope to defeat an enemy as powerful, persistent, and adaptable as illicit drugs, we must be at least as determined and versatile, focusing our ingenuity and resources on curbing abuse and fighting addiction,” said OJP’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan. “These grants will enable criminal justice officials and substance abuse, mental health, and other medical professionals to pool their assets and bring the full weight of our public safety and treatment systems down on this epidemic that has already caused so much harm.”
“The crisis of addiction—particularly caused by opioids—has affected Virginians of all walks of life. Addiction doesn’t care about race, religion, socioeconomic status, or age,” Acting U.S. Attorney Bubar said today. “This grant money will ensure that those groups providing recovery services for the brave men and women fighting addiction will have the funds they need to continue that fight.”
Funding is made available through OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Institute of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The following organizations received funding:
• Augusta County $600,000
• Page County $500,000
• Smyth County Board of Supervisors $499,776
• Fluvanna County $499,876
• City of Charlottesville $827,973
• Total Action Against Poverty in the Roanoke Valley $474,820
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years
Voters worry about voter suppression despite recent legislative changes
Despite the commonwealth recently passing a number of laws to make it easier to vote, some Virginians are concerned over voter suppression.
Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, said political campaigns have a long history of trying to suppress Black voters.
“I think it happens in every election,” Fauntroy said. “The extent to how sophisticated an operation it is will depend on the sophistication of the campaign and the resources they have to go out and identify voters and try to discourage them from voting.”
Carlette Bailey, a Richmond resident, said she fears ballots will be lost, stolen, or disappear before they have a chance to be counted.
“My main concern is the mail-in votes and making sure they’re there on time,” Bailey said. “The votes have to come from our mailbox and be where they have to be on Election Day so they can be counted.”
The Democratic Party of Virginia recently sued the Richmond General Registrar, J. Kirk Showalter, over an effort to get a list of names whose absentee ballots were rejected because of ballot errors. The organization said they wanted to inform voters of the ballot errors and that other locality had provided similar lists.
Tony Whitehead, another Richmond resident, said he is concerned about the possibility of ballots being stolen from mailboxes by groups who want the opposing party to win.
In early October six outdoor mailboxes were broken into in Henrico and Chesterfield counties and Richmond. The United States Postal Service and Virginia Department of Elections are currently investigating the incident, but it is unknown if the mailboxes contained ballots.
“You can’t really point the finger as to whose doing it, but if my ballots are stolen, that’s voter suppression right there,” Whitehead said. “That one vote that’s been suppressed could be the difference between whom you want in office and who I want in office, and that’s just not right.”
Bailey and Whitehead are not alone. A number of Americans are concerned about their votes being accurately counted in this election. Democrats are more concerned than Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty-six percent of Democrats believe the election will be conducted fairly and accurately, while 75% of Republicans share the same sentiment.
Fauntroy said Black voters in Virginia will be subjected to less suppression than Black voters in states such as Georgia and Florida with majority Republican leadership.
“The Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, and other leadership in Virginia have been drawing enough attention to this that voters will know what’s at stake,” Fauntroy said.
The Virginia General Assembly has recently taken steps to make it easier to vote, including laws that allow no-excuse absentee voting, early voting that starts 45 days prior to an election and making Election Day a state holiday.
Legislators also passed a bill that repeals a 2013 Republican-backed law requiring a photo ID to vote. The new law also makes additional forms of identification acceptable, such as a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government documents that shows the name and address of the voter.
Fauntroy said that photo ID bills are an example of Black voter suppression.
Fauntroy said voter suppression has occurred more frequently since the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County V. Holder, which found part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. The decision struck down a formula that required certain states which had discriminatory laws, such as requiring tests to vote, to obtain federal approval before changing voting laws.
Fauntroy said that almost immediately after the ruling North Carolina moved forward with voter ID laws that would not have passed if the preclearance provisions had remained.
“In the 2014 elections, we saw a number of Republicans winning seats because of redrawn districts and voter ID laws that they would not have won,” he said.
Fauntroy said national voter suppression in this election will be a multifaceted effort coming from different levels. This could include litigation, reducing the amount of early voting locations, and moving or eliminating polling locations that could make it harder for people of color to vote.
With no formula dictating which states obtain federal review, communities or individuals who feel they are being targeted by discriminatory voting laws must file lawsuits themselves or rely on ones filed by outside advocates or the Justice Department, according to an opinion piece in The Atlantic. This often happens after laws have been passed.
Federal legislators have introduced bills to establish new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain federal approval before changing voting laws, but the measures haven’t advanced.
Local Majority, a progressive political action committee, said common voter suppression strategies include restricting absentee voting, reducing the number of polling places in a jurisdiction, and disenfranchising citizens with past criminal records.
A joint resolution introduced in the 2019 General Assembly session that would allow felons to vote was continued until the 2021 session.
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, noted that the challenges the country faces aren’t new. The fate of the country is on the line and with that, Black voters and voices matter now more than ever, McClellan said.
“When we have gained social, political, and economic power, there has always been a swift and violent backlash, but we cannot and have not been deterred,” McClellan said. “We owe it to our ancestors, our children, and their children, to vote and help shape the future of our country because democracy and our very existence are on the ballot.”
By Brandon Shillingford
Capital News Service
Governor Northam invites small businesses and nonprofits to apply for Up to $100,000 from Rebuild VA Grant Fund
Governor Ralph Northam announced on October 28, 2020, that Rebuild VA, a grant program to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, will expand eligibility criteria and increase the amount of grant money businesses receive.
Rebuild VA launched in August with $70 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Governor Northam is directing an additional $30 million to support the expansion of the program. Businesses with less than $10 million in gross revenue or fewer than 250 employees will be eligible under the new criteria, and the maximum grant award will increase from $10,000 to $100,000.
“We started Rebuild VA to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “These changes to the program will ensure that we can provide additional financial assistance to even more Virginians, so they can weather this public health crisis and emerge stronger.”
Rebuild VA will now be open to all types of Virginia small businesses that meet size and other eligibility requirements, from restaurants and summer camps to farmers and retail shops. Businesses that previously received a Rebuild VA grant will receive a second award correlated with the updated guidelines.
Rebuild VA is administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD) in partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Eligible businesses and nonprofits must demonstrate that their normal operations were limited by Governor Northam’s Executive Orders Fifty-Three or Fifty-Five, or that they were directly impacted by the closure of such businesses. In September, the program expanded eligibility to supply chain partners of businesses whose normal operations were impacted by the pandemic.
Rebuild VA funding may be utilized for the following eligible expenses:
• Payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during those periods of leave;
• Employee salaries;
• Mortgage payments, rent, and utilities;
• Principal and interest payments for any business loans from national or state-chartered banking, savings and loan institutions, or credit unions, that were incurred before or during the emergency;
• Eligible personal protective equipment, cleaning, and disinfecting materials, or other working capital needed to address COVID-19 response.
For additional information about Rebuild VA and how to submit an application, please visit governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – October 28, 2020
Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response.
- Virginia has not seen a spike in COVID-19 cases unlike other states
- Eastern Virginia had summer spike in cases
- Northern Virginia had a high number of cases
- Central Virginia had a slight increase in cases
- Southwest Virginia had the highest number of cases
- Halloween crowds are a bad idea
- Continue to social distance, wear masks, and handwashing
- More money is coming
- Workforce training program coming out soon
- Spoke about the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument
- Urged early voting
- Voting is safe in Virginia
Governor Northam signs sweeping new laws to reform policing in Virginia
October 28, 2020 – Governor Ralph Northam today announced he has signed new laws that will significantly advance police and criminal justice reform in Virginia. Governor Northam has been working closely with legislators on these measures since early summer when the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor led to a national reckoning on racial bias in policing.
“Too many families, in Virginia, and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” said Governor Northam. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. I am grateful to the legislators and advocates who have worked so hard to make this change happen. Virginia is better, more just, and more equitable with these laws on our books.”
Governor Northam took action on the following bills that reform policing:
• Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5030, sponsored by Senator Locke, omnibus police reform legislation, which incorporates a number of critical reform measures passed by the House of Delegates:
• House Bill 5099, sponsored by Delegate Aird, prohibits law enforcement officers from seeking or executing a no-knock search warrant. With Governor Northam’s signature, Virginia becomes the third state in the nation to ban no-knock warrants.
• House Bill 5049, sponsored by Delegate Helmer, reduces the militarization of police by prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining or using specified equipment, including grenades, weaponized aircraft, and high caliber firearms. Governor Northam amended this bill to clarify that law enforcement agencies can seek a waiver to use restricted equipment for search and rescue missions.
• House Bill 5109, sponsored by Delegate Hope, creates statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers, including training on awareness of racism, the potential for biased profiling, and de-escalation techniques. Governor Northam made technical amendments to this bill to align it with Senate Bill 5030.
• House Bill 5104, sponsored by Delegate Price, mandates law enforcement agencies and jails to request the prior employment and disciplinary history of new hires.
• House Bill 5108, sponsored by Delegate Guzman, expands and diversifies the Criminal Justice Services Board, ensuring that the perspectives of social justice leaders, people of color, and mental health providers are represented in the state’s criminal justice policymaking.
• House Bill 5051, sponsored by Delegate Simon, strengthens the process by which law enforcement officers can be decertified and allows the Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings.
• House Bill 5069, sponsored by Delegate Carroll Foy, limits the circumstances in which law enforcement officers can use neck restraints.
• House Bill 5029, sponsored by Delegate McQuinn, requires law enforcement officers to intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.
• House Bill 5045, sponsored by Delegate Delaney, makes it a Class 6 felony for law enforcement officers to “carnally know” someone they have arrested or detained, an inmate, parolee, probationer, pretrial defendant, or post-trial offender if the officer is in a position of authority over such individual.
• Governor Northam signed House Bill 5055 and Senate Bill 5035, sponsored by Leader Herring and Senator Hashmi, respectively, which empower localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards. These new laws also permit civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions.
• Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5014, sponsored by Senator Edwards, which mandates the creation of minimum crisis intervention training standards and requires law enforcement officers to complete crisis intervention training.
Governor Northam also took action on the following bills that make Virginia’s criminal justice system more equitable:
• Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5018, sponsored by Senator Bell, which allows individuals serving a sentence for certain felony offenses who are terminally ill to petition the Parole Board for conditional release.
• Governor Northam amended House Bill 5148 and Senate Bill 5034, sponsored by Delegate Scott and Senator Boysko, respectively, which allow for increased earned sentencing credits. The Governor proposed a six-month delay to give the Department of Corrections sufficient time to implement this program.
“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery woke Americans to a longstanding problem that has existed for generations—and we know Virginia is not immune,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “These are transformative bills that will make Virginians’ lives better, and I’m so proud to see them signed into law.”
“Today is about progress,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “After generations of work on this issue, we are finally taking steps to hold police accountable and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It’s a new day in Virginia.”
Governor Northam also signed measures to support COVID-19 relief. A full list of legislation signed by the Governor from the Special Session can be found here.
Attorney General Herring wins Lee statue case
RICHMOND (October 27, 2020) – Attorney General Herring won the Lee statue case today when Judge W. Reilly Marchant, in the Richmond Circuit Court, found that the statue was raised against a backdrop of white supremacy and that it is against public policy to keep it up, but the ruling is stayed pending appeal.
In his order, Judge Marchant notes that Virginia’s testimony showed that the Lee Monument was erected to honor the South’s “Lost Cause” and their way of life, which included slavery. Additionally, the Judge highlights that both the Senate and the House have passed budget language appropriating funds for the removal of the statue and repealing the 1889 Joint Resolution that directed the Commonwealth to maintain the statue in perpetuity which “clearly indicate the current public policy of the General Assembly, and therefore the Commonwealth, to remove the Lee Monument from its current position on the state-owned property on Monument Avenue.”
“Today’s win is so important for the Commonwealth and its future as an inclusive, open, welcoming community. The Lee statue has held a place of prominence and stood as a memorial to Virginia’s racist past in the center of our capital city for entirely too long,” said Attorney General Herring. “The Lee statue does not represent who we have become as Virginians and it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world that we continue to venerate an individual who fought to maintain the enslavement of human beings. This decision puts Virginia one step closer on the path to finally bringing this divisive symbol down and I remain as dedicated as ever to ensuring that it is removed once and for all.”
In his order, Judge Marchant highlights that two of the Commonwealth’s expert witnesses, Dr. Ed Ayers and Dr. Kevin Gaines “testified extensively about the conditions in the Commonwealth, and the South in general, during the period of 1865 through 1890 and beyond…includ[ing] discussion of the purposes for which the Lee Monument was erected in 1890…their testimony overwhelmingly established the need of the southern citizenry to establish a monument to their ‘Lost Cause,’ and to some degree their whole way of life, including slavery.” He continues to say that, “their testimony described a post-war South where the white citizenry wanted to impose and state unapologetically their continued belief in the validity and honor of their ‘Lost Cause,’ and thereby vindicate their way of life and their former Confederacy.” He concludes by saying, “it was out of this backdrop that the erection of the Lee Monument took place.”
Additionally, Judge Marchant notes in the order that, “Dr. Gaines testified that today the monument stands as a contradiction to present societal values…[and] that there is a ‘consensus that the monuments are a troubling presence.’”
Judge Marchant concludes his order by saying “the Court orders that the temporary injunction against the Commonwealth herein…is hereby dissolved effective immediately, However…the Court orders the suspension of any execution upon this Judgment Order pending the resolution of a properly perfected appeal, and the Court further waives the requirements of any suspending bond.”