TCI Applauds Recommendations to Address Racial Injustice in Virginia Law

September 24, 2020

Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law Takes Up Major Criminal Justice, Education Remedies

On Tuesday, September 23, 2020, the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law recommended that the governor, General Assembly, and Board of Education take specific steps to address significant and long standing racial injustices in Virginia law. The commission, formed in June 2019 by executive order, was tasked with identifying and addressing laws that were intended to or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination or inequity. The education and criminal justice-related recommendations approved yesterday by the commission, together with the policing-related recommendations approved in July, shows it is taking its charge seriously.

“The commission’s recommendations address school segregation, school funding equity, and teacher diversity, while also confronting racism in court sentencing, bail decisions, pretrial hearings, and reducing the ongoing harm from overpolicing and oversentencing on communities of color,” says Ashley Kenneth, Senior Vice President at The Commonwealth Institute. “The Chair of the commission rightly said, ‘Sweeping change for sweeping problems.’ That is what’s needed to begin to address the overwhelming challenge of racial injustice that has plagued this state and country since their beginnings.”

The commission will issue a formal interim report in November, yet the administration and legislators do not need to wait to begin acting on these recommendations.

“The commission has undertaken a major effort to identify many of the racial injustices in Virginia law,” says Michael Cassidy, President and CEO of the Institute. “Now it’s up to the governor and the General Assembly to take action and make these necessary changes as soon as possible.”

Here is a summary of some of the recommendations adopted by the commission.

Criminal Justice

The Commission embraced several proposals to address racial injustice in the criminal justice system, including:

  • Requiring the Sentencing Commission to collect, analyze, and report on sentencing outcomes by race and ethnicity.
  • Requiring Virginia’s Courts to collect data on the results of pretrial hearings, bail decisions, and pretrial incarceration, including breakdowns by race and ethnicity.
  • Removing the current financial incentive for commonwealth attorneys to charge as many cases as felonies as possible (since their budget allocation from the state is based, in part, on volume), even when misdemeanor charges may be more appropriate, which will help reduce the frequency of over-charging of Black people in Virginia.
  • Addressing the racial disparities in incarceration rates that result from mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
  • Advancing legislation that promotes restorative justice and removes the harmful collateral consequences of a prior record, including through expungement reform, clemency, sentence reductions, addressing barriers to employment, and retroactive sentencing.
  • Addressing felony disenfranchisement and exploring an automatic process to restore the rights of those who have paid their debts to society.

Education

Proposals put forward by the commission to address racial inequity in education are far-reaching and include:

  • Repealing restrictive statutory language currently in Virginia law in order to give the Board of Education the ability to draw more equitable school divisions. These restrictions were put in place to prevent school integration efforts following the 1974 Milliken v. Bradley decision.
  • Incentivizing and facilitating school integration strategies, such as controlled choice zoning, magnet schools, and metro-wide agreements.
  • Adding diversity as a measure of school quality in state school accreditation ratings.
  • Addressing the lack of access to advanced coursework for students of color by requiring the Board of Education to revise career counseling and diploma regulations, including adding cultural sensitivity training, reforming the appeals process, and a process for checking bias that occurs during school counseling services.
  • Requiring the investment of state funds in school infrastructure.
  • Reforming the state’s primary school funding formula to take into account student need.
  • Supporting efforts toward universal access to full-day pre-kindergarten programs for all children, while ensuring the diversity of such programs.
  • Mandating data collection and reporting on recruitment and retention of diverse teachers by race and ethnicity.
  • Endorsing recommendations made by the Diversifying Virginia’s Educators Taskforce, which include approval of a 4-year degree-to-licensure program and the creation of a “Grow Your Own” teacher program by the Department of Education.