Justice is supposed to be equal for everyone. Racial inequities hard-wired into the system, however, often create problems with disparate treatment based largely on a defendant’s skin tone. It’s a problem that’s so obvious that it’s almost universally acknowledged by those in law enforcement and the court system.
So, why hasn’t Virginia’s legislative body done more to change things? Many of the proposals that various reform groups have tried to push through seem stalled — at least for the time being. That includes bills designed to end the inhumane practice of solitary confinement as a punishment, bills to end the death penalty and bills to reinstate parole.
Legislation designed to legalize marijuana and make it easier for someone to expunge their records of nonviolent felonies and ordinary misdemeanors is also on hold. Convictions for marijuana crimes disproportionately affect blacks — often creating a judicial nightmare from which it’s hard to recover. It can be incredibly difficult to pass a background check, apply for loans or get a job with a drug conviction on your record, after all.
The stalled reform efforts are particularly frustrating because advocates had high hopes that they’d finally see progress on some of their long-term goals once the legislature became controlled by Democrats. Advocates say they’ve seen some small gains — but it isn’t enough to make a real difference. As one prison reform advocate said, “You don’t just need reform here and there. You need to transform an entire system.”
While progress is on the horizon, the progress toward those criminal justice system reform goals is still quite far away. If you’ve been charged with a drug crime in Virginia, it’s time to get an experienced defense attorney by your side.