The reformation of the penal and criminal justice systems can no longer be considered a fringe concern. It’s a blight of epidemic proportions that’s decimating families and straining budgets to exhaustion. Advisors once referred to it as political suicide to publicy broach such a topic. It’s time for Virginia to emerge from the shadows of deception, be a leader, and transcend the political stigma associated when grappling with this sensitive subject.
The Commonwealth’s dependency toward over-incarceration has failed to yield the desired results. Instead of reducing crime, Virginia now boasts the 8th highest incarceration rate in the country. The disproportionate sentences being imposed inflict pure retribution without any consideration toward rehabilitation. This is an embarrassment when you absorb the fact that 1 in every 214 adult Virginians find themselves behind bars.
The issue has far surpassed any good intentions initially created by Ronald Reagan’s “get tough on crime” legislation. Other states, including Virginia, jumped hastily at the opportunity to follow the Federal Government’s lead. Encouraged and influenced by Federal grants that afforded Virginia and others the financial freedom to expand its prison industry, it also afforded unencumbered funds to be allocated elsewhere in what was considered tough economic times. After decades of political posturing and overaggressive legislation, an abysmal state of our penal and criminal justice systems have been left in its wake.
As a consequence Virginia has been left with an overburdened correctional system, unable to consistently provide adequate services or safety. The legislative, executive, and judicial branches of our government refuse to honestly address this ongoing plague. What’s it going to take for the citizens of this state, and this country, to stand united and demand that these sensitive and substantive issues of reform be brought to the forefront of political agendas. I can personally attest to the corrupt, inept, ineffective dysfunctionality that permeates the Virginia penal and criminal justice systems. Bear in mind that I also possess a unique perspective having been incarcerated both here and abroad. The eye opening distinctions between the two systems are as shocking as they are profound.
The aftermath from government’s neglect and the public’s ignorance is mortifying. It’s unconscionable and reprehensible that as a society we’ve turned a blind eye to this issue. To portray every person convicted of a crime is heinous and unworthy of compassion and a second chance is irrational. The fact is, otherwise good people make mistakes. And although there are consequences for those misdeeds, any rational person would agree that any consequence to one’s actions need to be proportionate.
For no other conceivable reason but for preserving their own political careers, politicians have developed an allergy to any reform legislation that could get them tagged as “soft on crime.” The judiciary say, ignorance of the law is no excuse. There’s also no excuse for deception by government administrations that might obscure transparency. Without transparency in the adversarial system, there can’t be an equitable resolution. Time’s up. It’s vital to effectuate parity in an adversarial system that’s gone astray.
Any political posturing or fears of recidivism should be allayed by the numerous studies conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Justice that provide unequivocal empirical data that recidivism, even for violent offenders are at historic lows. It’s time to stop utilizing humans as pawns in some pretend game. Our inaction for self preservation has to come to an end. Are you willing to stand idly by until your family becomes entangled in this travesty of the so called justice apparatus? Because it’ll be too late, unless you have sufficient resources to combat the unlimited resources of the government.
Collectively together, with more understanding, and less condemnation, a substantive shift can embark us on a path of civility, rather than civil discourse. Your courage to stand up against continued mass incarceration will strengthen the social and moral fiber of this state and country. The people hold the power to forcibly bring about this constructive and necessary transformation. On behalf of the 2.2+ million incarcerated, most disproportionately sentenced, I pray you’ll search deep within yourself and determine of your own free will, that enough is enough. Create a new movement, not driven by the top 1%,, but instead by the people, for the people, as our forefathers and the framers of our Constitution intended.
John Hamilton, 1442949
Virginia Dept. of Corrections
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Rd / P.O.Box 488
Burkeville VA 23922