11 commonwealth’s attorneys form group to back criminal justice reform

11 commonwealth’s attorneys form group to back criminal justice reform
(Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Eleven commonwealth’s attorneys who collectively represent more than 40 percent of the state’s population formed an advocacy group this month to back criminal justice reform proposals, dubbing themselves Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice.

The group has endorsed a range of proposals lawmakers will take up during a special legislative session scheduled to begin on Aug. 18, including restricting no-knock warrants, increased police accountability and an end to mandatory minimum sentences.

“We look forward to the outcome of the Special Session with great anticipation that the results will serve the citizens of Virginia in a fairer, more equitable and less discriminatory way,” the group wrote in a July 13 letter to lawmakers.

The new coalition represents a departure from the advocacy traditionally seen from prosecutors around the state, who are represented by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, which in the past has often opposed criminal justice reform initiatives.

During a press conference Monday, the prosecutors said the group formed organically, helped along by the election of two commonwealth’s attorneys in Northern Virginia who unseated long-time incumbents by running on explicitly progressive platforms, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in Arlington County and Steve Descano in Fairfax County.

Members of Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice

Amy Ashworth; Prince William County and Manassas

Anton Bell; Hampton

Buta Biberaj; Loudoun County

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti; Arlington County and Falls Church

Steve Descano; Fairfax County and City of Fairfax

James Hingley; Albemarle County

Stephanie Morales; Portsmouth

Joseph Platania; Charlottesville

Bryan Porter; Alexandria

Shannon Taylor; Henrico County

Gregory Underwood; Norfolk

Other members have represented their localities for years and pursued reform at the local level, including Greg Underwood in Norfolk and Stephanie Morales in Portsmouth, who both took steps to stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases only to be rebuffed by local judges.

“As bold as we all are in our own individual localities, we recognize that there is a time where you have to unify around issues; you have to unify around transformative change and you have to realize that when the nation awakens to some of the things that many of us grapple with and deal with on a daily basis, there is a need for us to stand up as a unit,” Morales said.

Members of the group have expressed general support for legislative agendas put forward by Senate Democrats and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. (Democrats in the House are planning to announce their own set of proposals following a series of committee meetings that will begin Wednesday.)

READ MORE ON VIRGINIAMERCURY.COM>

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.