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Virginia's Justice System: Expensive, Ineffective and Unfair

NCJ Number
Spike Bradford
Date Published
November 2013
20 pages

This Justice Policy Institute's analysis of Virginia's justice system concludes that it is expensive, ineffective, and unfair, and reforms are recommended.


Despite some recent small progress in the areas of post-incarceration reentry, particularly felony disenfranchisement, Virginia continues to pursue misguided policies and practices of the past. The justice system is too expensive. The State's Public Safety Office and Judiciary have combined annual budgets of nearly $3 billion, which is 7.7 percent of the total general and non-general State expenditures. The State spends approximately $1.5 billion annually to operate crowded jails and prisons. In addition to being expensive, the justice system is also ineffective. "Tough on crime" laws enacted in the 1990s have failed to reduce crime or recidivism. Virginia's aggressive stance on arresting people for drug violations has not reduced drug use; rather, it has increased in recent years. Virginia's justice system is also inequitable, in that people of color, particularly African-Americans, are over-represented at each stage of the criminal justice system. African-Americans compose approximately 20 percent of the adult population in the justice system. Regarding juvenile justice in the State, youth are drawn into the justice system because of zero-tolerance policies for status offenses in schools and the use of punitive justice policies rather than mental health services for youths' problem behaviors. Six reform recommendations are offered. First, repeal truth-in-sentencing statutes and reinstate parole. Second, the punitive approach to drug use should be replaced with a treatment emphasis. Third, address racial disparity throughout the justice system. Fourth, re-allocate juvenile justice resources from incarceration to community-based alternatives proven effective. Fifth, increase resources for education, particularly in low-income minority communities. Sixth, restore judicial discretion regarding whether to try a juvenile as an adult. 5 tables, 6 figures, and 29 notes