BLACK LIVES MATTER VIRGINIA PRISON CHAPTER
RACIAL RECONCILIATION POLICY PROPOSAL
In the United States 2.3 million people are incarcerated on any given day, a 700% increased from 1970. Here in Virginia (VA) the prison population has increased from 19,000 in 1995 to over 30,000 prisoners in VDOC on any given day currently. The nearly 100% increase resulted from the State becoming so called "Tough on Crime" by implementing Truth In Sentencing (TIS) crime policy. The TIS policy package began a process of Mass Incarceration that both treated and impacted VA's Black community differently. The Mass Incarceration trend has significantly increased American poverty, as incarcerating individuals has a ripple effect on families and communities. Specifically, poverty rates would be lowered by 20% had Mass Incarceration not occurred. Because incarcerated individuals are not included in poverty rates, incarcerated individuals do not receive the same services as other impoverished individuals, but experience similar hardships, such as food insecurity. This means black people are suffering most since Afrikan Americans are over-represented at each stage of VA's criminal justice system. In VA Black people comprise roughly 19% of the overall population, however in the so called 'Justice System' we comprise 62% of state prisons inmates. As a result, nearly 22% of blacks in VA have lost their right to vote. Black prisoners in VA too are serving much longer sentences in prison than whites. According to the Pew Center, VA had the second highest growth in 'Length of Stay' (LOS) of it's prisoners between 1990 and 2009. Only Florida's LOS was higher. Prison sentences in VA rose 91% during that period. Yet this crime policy isn't compatible with the states data on crime rates. Crime in VA began declining in 1992. Between 1994 and 2012 violent crime in VA decreased by 47% and property crime decreased by 41%. While this trend is on par with national averages, VA's incarceration rates have shifted in the opposite direction. As crime rates declined in VA incarceration rates increased by 14% between 1994 and 2012, meaning more black people were being locked up for longer periods while crime in the state was declining. Since 1995 VA has built 13 new prisons by which to Mass Incarcerate Blacks. Many of these prisons were built in the western region of the state and are operated by all white staff who oftentimes espouse conservative, and frankly, racist ideologies. This has led to decades of abuse at prisons like Red Onion, Wallens Ridge, and now River North which are notorious for their abuse of prisoners. What we black prisoners are saying is our Black Lives Matter too and when you Mass Incarcerate one Black Person the Block Community as a whole suffers. Mothers, Fathers, Daughters, Sons, Sisters, Brothers, etc are lost for years and black communities are left to fill the voids and pick up the pieces. Thus we prisoners have come up with a BLM Racial Reconciliation Policy Proposal for the state of VA to be able to correct decades of harm they've caused as a result of this intentional exploitation of its black communities. This proposal was put together by several prisoners at different prisons who've experienced VA's Mass Incarceration system for decades.
SENTENCING/ CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
a.Repeal §53.1-165.1 "Limitations on Parole":This statue abolished parole for any person who committed a felony on or after January 1, 1995. This law is the anchor of what we know is the racist or racially biased TIS crime policy here in VA.
b. Repeal §53.1-202.2 "Earned Sentence Credit":This is the second most important law in the TIS package. The law dehumanizes black people in that it implies that we are incapable and unworthy of redemption for our crimes. One can infer from the TIS policy that VA believes WE ARE OUR CRIMES and thus deserve to sit in cages for decades without incentive, encouragement, or opportunity to reform/transform ourselves
.c.Amend §53.1-40.01 "Geriatric Release Law":This law was placed in the TIS package to give the state a way to rid itself of elderly and terminally ill prisoners once the VDOC has determined that those prisoners' presence in their prisons was more of a liability than an asset. This law too is dehumanizing because it rewards people for committing crimes later in life when the world has acknowledged that the younger a person is the "less" culpable they are for their crimes since their brain hasn't fully developed and their experiences are much more limited
d. Reform the 'Purpose' of the Crime and Sentencing Commissions:These commissions have been used as partisan instruments of the Republican Party to conduct studies and create reports that supported the racist TIS criminal justice policy here in VA. We need impartial commissions that take a holistic approach to studying crime & sentencing policy in VA that includes the mental health, economic factors, educational levels, and physical health of "people" who commit crimes and serve time in VA.
POST CONVICTION REFORM
a.Amend the "21 day rule" (Rule 1:1 VA Supreme Court Rules):This 'rule' has been used to block Juvenile, Fishback, Baker, and many other prisoners from accessing the court to receive justice. This rule has been instrumental in locking up black prisoners and throwing away the key here in VA.b. Amend §19.2-308 'Sentencing or Modification of Sentence':This law has excluded prisoners sent to the Dep't of Corrections from petitioning the sentencing court to suspend or modify their sentence. When this law was enacted in 1975 prisoners in VA were parole eligible and could earn substantial good time credit. This law should have been Amended to reflect the new condition of Mass Incarceration resulting from VA's TIS policies. This too has contributed to the excessive punishment endured by Black people in VA's criminal justice system.