Real Reform In The Criminal Legal System:
I am your Commonwealth’s Attorney and I am running for reelection. Three years ago, when I first sought your support, I promised that our community would become a model for how to run a criminal justice system that provides safety and justice for all. In just three years, in the midst of a global pandemic, in the face of constant resistance from the forces of the status quo, and fighting against a right-wing recall campaign against me, we’ve achieved that and more:
- I promised to bring fairness to the system while focusing on serious crimes that threaten the safety, welfare, and well-being of the community. I kept my word: We’ve centered prosecutions on violent crimes, gun crimes, sexual offenses, and crimes against children, and we’ve obtained convictions in unresolved homicide and rape cases left behind from the prior administration, and helped solve and have prosecuted cold cases;
- I promised to listen to and care for victims. I kept my word; we instituted a community-based prosecution model where one attorney is responsible for a case from start to finish so victims don’t get shuffled around to multiple prosecutors, never knowing who bears responsibility for their case;
- I promised to treat kids like kids and work with teachers and parents to make sure that the sorts of mistakes all of us made as children don’t ruin their lives. I kept my word; in nearly three years our office has not once certified a child as an adult;
- I promised to stop prosecuting simple possession of marijuana because it’s a waste of time and money, and it exacerbates existing racial disparities. I kept my word; even before the GA decriminalized simple possession, our office stopped prosecuting simple possession;
- I promised to stop seeking cash bail because it unfairly keeps people in jail simply because they are poor, causing them to lose their jobs, their housing, and even their children. I kept my word; we have never asked for cash bail. Instead, we ask for people to be held if they pose a danger or a flight risk; if not, we work on ways to send them home;
- I promised to reduce the jail population. I kept my word; the jail population is 30% lower than when I took office and has remained at historic lows – something that was particularly crucial during the pandemic and helped Arlington avoid a COVID outbreak in our jail;
- I promised to work to reduce racial disparities in the criminal legal system. I kept my word; we partnered with Vera Institute for Justice’s project, Motion for Justice and OAR to refine policies and create diversion programing that reduces disparities;
- I promised to provide full and fair discovery to defendants and their lawyers. I kept my word; attorneys are now provided with prompt electronic discovery instead of being required to come to a room to take notes like schoolchildren;
- I promised to support a behavioral health docket because the mentally ill should be treated, not incarcerated. I kept my word; we implemented a mental health docket that does not require anyone to plead to a criminal offense before getting help. We’ve already had a number of graduates and the program is over capacity;
- I promised to expand drug court to help people suffering from addiction. I kept my word. Before I took office, drug court had never served more than a handful of people, and was serving only 4 in 2019; it’s now nearly at capacity;
- I promised not to separate immigrant families by bringing charges that would cause their loved ones not accused of a violent crime to be deported. I kept my word; we’ve protected people’s DACA status, fashioned resolutions that avoid deportation, and vacated a wrongful conviction that would have separated an immigrant mother from her child;
- I promised to bring restorative justice to Arlington because it provides people harmed with more of a voice and healing while reducing recidivism; I kept my word. We’ve helped build Restorative Arlington and we’ve launched our pilot program, Heart of Safety;
- I promised never to use civil asset forfeiture without a conviction. I kept my word; our office has not seized a single dollar in civil asset forfeiture just because someone has been accused of a crime and I supported legislation that codified that;
- I promised to support an independent review mechanism for use of force because it fosters public trust and keeps all of us safe, including officers on the job. I kept my word; within 18 months of taking office we had a Critical Incident Response Team and a Community Oversight Board in the works. These were firsts in the history of our community;
- Last, I promised to be a partner with our delegation and local officials to support their priorities in criminal justice reform, such as abolishing the death penalty, raising the felony threshold, decriminalizing simple marijuana possession, prohibiting no knock warrants and pretextual stops, and in instituting a civilian review board. I kept my word and supported our legislators in getting these reforms passed.
But I did more than keep the promises I made. We also created a conviction review unit to correct and safeguard against false convictions – the first of its kind in the Commonwealth; and, in another first in the nation, we adopted a policy to stop the use of peremptory strikes in jury selection so as to make juries truly representative of the community. We did all of this while making sure our community remains safe. While homicides rose 30% nationwide, in our community they dropped by 50%. In 2021 and for about 16 months, Arlington County and the City of Falls Church recorded zero homicides. This year, to date, one.
Reforming the criminal legal system isn’t the work of a moment or a season; it takes lifelong commitment and honest conviction. So, for all the extraordinary progress we’ve made in just three years, there is still so much more we need to do: we need to create a victim restitution fund, build out restorative justice, establish the right to counsel at first appearance and lower the income threshold for public counsel, continue reducing racial disparities, and maintain our low crime rate.
I am Parisa, your commonwealth’s attorney. I ask for your support to continue building a better justice system that keeps us safe, treats everyone fairly, and reflects your values.