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Report Questions Virginia’s Billion Dollar Corrections Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                CONTACT: ZERLINE HUGHES
APRIL 2, 2014                                            202.558.7974 X 308                                                                                       202.320.1029

Report Questions Virginia’s Billion Dollar Corrections Budget
Commonwealth’s African-American Population Disproportionately Impacted by Flawed Justice System Policies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Virginia lawmakers consider a budget that would see corrections spending surpass a billion dollars in general funds, a new report points to racial disparities, skewed fiscal priorities, and missed opportunities for improvements through proposed legislation, and calls for reforms to the commonwealth’s sentencing, corrections and criminal justice system.

According to Billion Dollar Divide Virginia’s Sentencing, Corrections and Criminal Justice Challenge, a new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), while other states are successfully reforming their sentencing laws, parole policies and drug laws, Virginia is lagging behind and spending significant funds that could be used more effectively to benefit public safety in the commonwealth. The report’s findings will be unveiled as part of a panel discussion and town hall Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Richmond Police Academy located at Virginia Union University featuring representatives from JPI, the Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration, the Virginian Indigent Defense Commission, and Virginia CURE.

According to the report, approximately 80 percent of the corrections budget is being spent on incarcerating people in secure facilities, while only about 10 percent of the budget is spent on supervising people in the community.

Put another way, in 2010 for every dollar the Commonwealth of Virginia spent on community supervision, it spent approximately $13 on costs for those incarcerated. Other states have a better balance between prison spending, and supporting individuals in the community.

"Taxpayers' wallets – and more important, people's lives – are in jeopardy," said Marc Schindler, executive director of JPI. "Instead of planning to spend more than $1 billion on an ineffective corrections system, Virginia should be looking to policies that are being implemented successfully in other states to make wiser use of precious resources and get better public safety outcomes.”

According to Billion Dollar Divide, the second in a series of JPI reports analyzing Virginia’s criminal justice priorities, policymakers are holding on to policies that see too many Virginia residents locked up, while failing to enact reforms this year that would cut costs, create mechanisms to safely and smartly reduce the prison population, and begin to address other public safety and human services challenges.

The report describes challenges facing Virginia’s sentencing, corrections and criminal justice system, including:

“Virginia's criminal justice system sends more people to prison, incarcerates people longer and releases less people from prison than most other states,” said Lillie Branch-Kennedy, executive director for the Virginia-based Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged. “Even more so, our African-American population is disproportionally impacted and affected by the lack of reforms, draconian state drug policies and unfair sentencing. People should be outraged and change is needed now.”

Billion Dollar Divide asks the question, “with the commonwealth once again about to cross the divide of spending a billion general fund dollars on corrections, and with 2013 being the first year of a documented increase in the prison population in five years, shouldn’t alarm bells be ringing in Richmond around the current state of sentencing, corrections spending and criminal justice policy?”

What is happening, instead? In 2014, Virginia lawmakers failed to move forward on the following initiatives:

“Several legislative bills failed this session that would have saved Virginia millions of dollars and allowed residents a second chance sooner,” said Jason Ziedenberg, JPI’s research and policy director and a co-author of the report. “Virginia lawmakers are watching history pass them by when they fail to enact the kind of sentencing reforms seen in other states, and are simply passing along costs to taxpayers with little benefit to public safety.”

To read Billion Dollar Divide: Virginia's Sentencing, Corrections and Criminal Justice Challenge, CLICK HERE. To read the first in the report series, Virginia’s Justice System: Expensive, Ineffective and Unfair, CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Zerline Hughes at zhughes@justicepolicy.org.

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C., is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more JPI briefs on the criminal justice system, visit www.justicepolicy.org.

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