ON THE ISSUES
People should not be kept in jail simply because they are poor. Cash bail allows the wealthy to buy their way out of jail while the poor remain detained, losing their family, job, housing, and continuity of medical treatment while they are in jail. It wastes money because each day of incarceration costs $182 in Arlington County. It compromises public safety because imprisoning a person pre-trial simply because they cannot afford to pay bail increases the likelihood that they will reoffend once they are released. Parisa will fight to replace this broken system with one that is fairer, cheaper, and safer. Suspects who are a serious flight risk or danger to the community will be held regardless of their ability to pay, and those charged with nonviolent offenses will be released with proven alternatives to cash bail such as validated risk assessment tools, monitoring, and regular check-ins. Parisa’s commitment to ending this system goes beyond election year political expediency.
Commonwealth’s Attorneys play a powerful role in the criminal justice system. They exercise discretion every day in the charges they file, whether or not they seek bail, the people they choose to divert into community programs, the plea bargains they offer, and the sentences they recommend. This discretion is exercised outside of the public eye; there is no transparency in decisions and no measure of biases. Parisa will gather data that reveals where the system works and where it does not.
For instance, African-Americans make up less than 9% of Arlington County’s population, but about 66% of the population in the Arlington County jail, despite evidence that populations commit crimes at similar rates. This disproportionate incarceration is unacceptable. Parisa is committed to determining the causes of the disparities, addressing them, and helping repair the damage done to communities as a result.
The criminal justice system works best when it has earned the confidence of the communities it serves, and when the community can provide valuable insight into crime prevention, alternatives to incarceration, victim and survivor services, restorative justice, and effective and responsible means of decarceration. Parisa will engage with the communities she servesby inviting community leaders, faith communities, victim services, law enforcement, and community-based organizations to participate on a Community Advisory Board.
She will also engage young people, educating them about consent, substance abuse, and responsible use of technology, to help keep kids out of trouble.
Parisa will work to expand and implement effective diversion programs that prioritize treatment over jail for people with mental health and substance abuse challenges, kids, and people with special needs.
In Virginia, a 2015 survey of local jurisdictions indicate that 18% of individuals in local jails report suffering from a mental illness, and of those at least 50% suffer from a serious mental illness. This is particularly tragic considering that more than 50% of those incarcerated with mental illness are in jail for non-violent crimes. In addition to the human cost, incarcerating mentally ill individuals comes at a tremendous financial price: in 2015, the total cost of providing treatment for incarcerated individuals with mental illness in Virginia was estimated at over $14 million, with close to 70% of the cost being borne by local counties. In Arlington, over 60% of our county jail’s population is on psychotropic drugs due to mental illness. Parisa will advocate and work to develop a mental health docket that gives police, prosecutors and judges effective options for alternatives to arrest or incarceration in ways that do not compromise public safety.
Similarly, Virginia in general and Arlington in particular lacks an effective drug court system that would permit individuals caught in the grips of addiction to obtain treatment without exposing themselves to a criminal record. Drug Court in Arlington serves only about 20 people at a time, and currently is serving only about 12 people. It is too small, because the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office imposes restrictive criteria and controls who participates. While the infrastructure and will is present among other stakeholders, the current court operates on a punitive, rather than medical model, as a result of the current philosophy within the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. To help those who need help the most, incentives to success must be present, eligibility criteria must be expanded, and best practices aimed towards rehabilitation must be adopted. Parisa will work to expand drug court and treat addiction as a medical problem. She will also stop using interdiction, a civil process used by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to label people “habitual drunkards” and place them in jail for up to a year if they are found close to alcohol. This process targets people who are homeless and struggling with substance abuse and often mental illness, as well.
Virginia ranks among the top five states in the nation for referring students to law enforcement over school discipline issues. Students with disabilities and students of color are disproportionately suspended and referred to the criminal justice system.Parisa is committed to ending the school-to-prison pipeline by helping our children with effective diversion, treatment, and services instead of prosecuting them.
Between 2013 and 2018, the current Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office prosecuted over 3200 cases of simple marijuana possession. African-Americans are at least 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite the fact that studies show that different racial groups use marijuana at about the same rates. Marijuana should be the subject of civil regulation, but we should put our limited prosecutorial resources to better use focusing on serious crimes. Parisa will not prosecute simple possession of marijuana and support decriminalization and legalization, with appropriate government regulation.
The most powerful lobby in Richmond is the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, which every year fights against popular reform legislation in the General Assembly. The current Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and the City of Falls Church holds multiple leadership positions in this organization, which has opposed, among other reforms, decriminalizing marijuana, raising the felony threshold for Virginia, which remains one of the lowest in the country, prohibiting the death penalty for people with serious mental illness, expunging the criminal records for minor alcohol and marijuana offenses committed by individuals before they were twenty-one, providing criminal defendants with fair discovery, restoring voting rights for returning citizens at the completion of their sentence, Parisa will support our delegation’s criminal justice reform measures in Richmond and will work cooperatively with our elected officials to collect data and enact reform.
Instead of prosecuting penny-ante crimes without victims, Parisa will put more resources into fighting serious crimes, including sexual assault, fraud, wage theft, and hate crimes. Parisa will prioritize the needs of victims’ families and survivors. She will work with victim advocates and experts to develop appropriate, trauma-informed, and evidence-based approaches to support survivors and their families and will work to identify gaps in services.
Restorative justice is grounded in principles of accountability and making amends, because crime is more than simply breaking the law: it harms people, relationships, and the community. Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harms created by criminal behavior through acceptance of responsibility, redemption, and discouraging behavior that causes more harm. For victims, it provides the opportunity to play a more active role in the process. Studies have found that rates of recidivism and survivor satisfaction are increased with the use of restorative techniques. Parisa will bring people together to solve problems and make victims whole in a collaborative way whenever possible, making us safer.
Parisa will also:
Eliminate civil asset forfeiture without a conviction
Civil asset forfeiture allows the government to seize people’s cash and possessions without compensation regardless of whether the owner has been convicted or even charged with a crime. The current practice in Arlington and the City of Falls Church is that people can be subject to forfeiture when they are merely charged with – not convicted of – a crime. These assets are not returned, even if the owner is acquitted. The only way to get them back is in civil court, where a lawyer is not provided. Many people cannot afford to hire their own lawyer to get their assets back. This unfair practice has raised bipartisan concerns about due process. Parisa will stop forfeiture until after a person is found guilty.
Adopt open-file discovery
Our criminal justice system only works fairly when both sides are equally informed and prepared. Much of the evidence in criminal cases is in the hands of the prosecutor. The police interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, and collect forensic evidence. The current practice in Arlington and the City of Falls Church that is called “open file” discovery is anything but. The defense is not allowed to make copies of the file, but rather an attorney – not a paralegal or staff person – is only allowed to take notes. Nor does the defendant receive a copy of the police report underlying the charge. This is at odds with discovery practices in many other jurisdictions, including at the Federal level. Parisa will adopt a fully open-file system for pretrial discovery to honor the U.S. Constitution and so that defense attorneys have access to the information they need to make informed decisions in cases.
Only offer fair plea deals
On average, only about 5% of felony cases go to trial. Instead, the vast majority end in plea deals. Plea deals can be important to save survivors from being forced to testify in public about their trauma and to conserve state resources by avoiding costly trials. However, studies have found evidence of racial bias and coercion in the use of plea deals, forcing people to give up their day in court and plead guilty, sometimes to crimes they did not commit. Parisa will create guidelines for plea bargaining to ensure that plea deals are reasonable and fair.
This President’s anti-immigration agenda has eroded trust between immigrants and law enforcement, resulting in decreased reporting of crimes and less cooperation with police. This makes it more difficult to catch and convict criminals. Parisa will be cognizant of immigration consequences when making charging and sentencing decisions.
Never seek the death penalty
The death penalty is the single punishment for which there is no remedy if a mistake has been made. It is inhumane, expensive, and racially-biased. Too many people sentenced to death have been found innocent and exonerated, including Earl Washington from Virginia. Parisa will never seek a death sentence.
Work to raise the felony larceny threshold
Virginia’s felony larceny threshold is stillone of the lowest in the country—just stealing a phone can leave a person with a permanent felony record that will prevent them from getting jobs, voting, and serving on a jury. Studies have shown that a lower threshold does not even decrease the rate of theft or the average value of objects stolen. Parisa supports increasing the larceny threshold and will use her discretion as Commonwealth’s Attorney to make sure that people are not unduly punished for small thefts.
Assist re-entry to reduce recidivism
One of the main functions of the criminal justice system is rehabilitation. Those who have paid their debt to society should not be treated like second-class citizens. In Virginia, anyone convicted of a felony loses their right to vote. Only the Governor can restore this right. Governor McAuliffe tried to streamline the process of rights restoration, removing obstacles, and re-enfranchising tens of thousands of people. Parisa will support efforts to restore voting rights and to expunge records in appropriate cases so returning citizens are actively integrated into society.
Create a Conviction Integrity Unit
Wrongful convictions are one of our system’s greatest injustices. Not only are innocent people unfairly punished, but the actual perpetrators remain free to commit more crimes. Parisa will work ensure innocent people are not jailed or imprisoned with the creation of a Conviction Integrity Unit to review innocence claims. She will also implement reforms to ensure the accuracy of future convictions by training and directing prosecutors to seek out, recognize, and identify potentially exculpatory evidence and turn it over to the defense promptly. Parisa will support reforms in eyewitness identification procedures, establishing proper vetting of forensic sciences, support legislation that will provide justice in cases where unscientific methods were used, and support the videotaping of police