Virginia currently has the 16th highest incarceration rate in the country. This high incarceration rate places a heavy burden on Virginia’s taxpayers and prison systems. In addition to high rates of adult incarceration, Virginia’s juvenile facilities have systematically failed to reform incarcerated youth, with approximately 75% of juvenile offenders recidivating within three years of their first release.
In 2012, the Vera Institute released research on corrections spending in the 2010 fiscal year by state, which noted that the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) spent $712.4 million, and the state added $36.2 million outside of the DOC budget for prisons. On average, Virginia pays an annual cost of $25,129 per inmate. Additionally, the cost of housing juvenile offenders is almost $200 a day, per offender – almost $100,000 per year. Incarcerating more people will not solve an increasing crime rate; it only costs taxpayers more money. Thus, it is important to shift assets toward rehabilitative resources that will help law-breaking individuals reform their ways and become productive and law-abiding citizens.
To help relieve the overcrowded prison population, Delegate Rob Bell (R-58), along with Virginia legislature, passed legislation in 2010 that established a probation program for non-violent offenders, modeled like Hawaii’s HOPE probation program. Recidivism prevention programs have also been focused toward juvenile offenders as one of the two juvenile detention facilities closed in 2017, and the savings from the facility closure were allocated toward community-based services and alternative placements to prison.
In 2020, the Virginia legislature took its first steps to reform juvenile justice by raising the age when a prosecutor can transfer a juvenile to be tried as an adult without prior court approval from 14 to 16. Additionally, Virginia implemented legislation that gives inmates the opportunity to earn credits through community service against fines and court costs that they accrued. Currently these credits can only be earned prior to or after exiting prison. Allowing inmates to work off their fines and fees enables the individual to exit the prison system with the opportunity for a fresh start, rather than in debt.
Virginia’s incarceration rates are still high with about 69,000 people incarcerated. Continuing to pursue common sense, public safety focused criminal justice reform will assist the state in lowering the tax burden to support high population prisons and allow the incarcerated to enter into the workforce as effective members of the economy.
Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.
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