Category Archives: Crime and corrections

How Virginia Would Fare Under President Biden, Part 1

By DJ Rippert

And then there were two. Today, Elizabeth Warren announced that she will withdraw from the presidential race. That leaves Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard (yes, she’s still running) as the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination. Given that Tulsi Gabbard has exactly one delegate (from American Samoa where she was born), the odds of her prevailing are so low that the race can safely be considered a two- man contest. Two weeks ago Joe Biden’s campaign seemed deader than disco. Then came Super Tuesday. Now he’s the front runner.

It seems worthwhile, then, to consider how Biden’s announced policies would affect Virginia if he were elected president this November. Politico keeps an updated list of the candidates’ positions on the issues which you can see here. Politico records the candidates’ positions using fifteen categories. This blog post examines the first five categories — criminal justice, economy (excluding taxes which is a separate category), education, elections and energy (including the environment and climate change). The remaining ten categories will be examined in future articles.

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Drugs in Prison

Buckingham Correctional Center

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) finds itself in a classic dammed-if-you-do, damned –if-you-don’t situation. On the one hand, it is facing a surge in illegal drugs coming into its prisons, enabled by drugs that are increasingly difficult to detect. On the other hand, it is facing popular and legislative outrage at some of the steps it has taken to stanch the contraband coming into prisons.

Tampons. There is a history of prison visitors bringing in contraband, including illegal drugs, concealed in their body cavities. DOC has body scanners in many prisons, but these devices cannot distinguish between a tampon and a cache of drugs inside a body cavity.

To enable it to reduce the volume of drugs coming into its prisons without having to strip search every female visitor for which a scanner showed a mass, DOC instituted a policy in the fall of 2018 prohibiting any visitor from using a tampon or menstrual cup inside a prison. The department said that it would provide a feminine hygiene pad for use during visits. Continue reading

“Insane” Virginia Bill Will Endanger Kids

by Kerry Dougherty

Just when you thought the new left-wing majority in Richmond couldn’t get any crazier, they do this: Abolish the requirement that school principals report to law enforcement any student who commits sexual battery.

Boneheaded. Dangerous, too.

There’s more.

If HB257 becomes law school administrators will no longer be required to call the cops when a student engages in stalking, assault and battery, threatens school personnel or threatens the school itself.

This soft-on-young-criminals approach has its roots in an Obama policy aimed at ending the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” that supposedly begins when kids engaging in minor criminal acts at school are turned over to the police and embark on a life of crime.

Of course, many of us don’t consider sexual battery minor. Nor do we shrug off threats made against a school. (Assault and battery could include fighting. No need to involve law enforcement for every minor skirmish. If it escalates, however, if a kid is seriously hurt, authorities should be summoned.) Continue reading

Three Bad Bills

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each session there are bills that are introduced probably with the best of intentions and approved for those reasons, but are basically bad policy and are likely to have unintended consequences. They are not “big” bills and do not generate headlines, but skate under the radar. I want to highlight three that have come to my attention and are in an area with which I am familiar.

Inmate medical copay. (HB 281—Hope.) This legislation would repeal the authority of the Department of Corrections to charge inmates a co-pay for medical services. Inmates now are subject to a $5 co-pay for offender-initiated  medical visits. No inmate is denied medical services due to a lack of funds in his account. The revenue generated by the co-pay is used to support the agency’s telemedicine program. The House amendments to the budget bill include $405,000 from the general fund each to replace the revenue lost. Continue reading

Lawmakers, Don’t Forget the Real Victims

Shaniqua Allen and Sharmar Hill Sr. grieve the loss of their 3-year-old son Sharmar Hill Jr. One of the toddler’s suspected killers was out on bond. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

by James A. Bacon

Newly empowered Democrats are pushing a wave of criminal justice reforms through the General Assembly with the goal of reducing the disproportionate number of African-Americans in incarceration. Some tweaks to the system are no doubt justified — every system can be improved upon. And, as Dick Hall-Sizemore reported yesterday, after a frenzy of activity early in the session, legislators appear to be slowing down to study some of the proposals more carefully.

The driving motivation behind these reforms is that the criminal justice system is fundamentally racist. Bringing about racial justice is a laudatory impulse. But justice for whom? A disproportionate number of violent crime victims also are African-Americans. Relax the rules too much, and we could well see a spike in the number of killings like that of 3-year-old Sharmar Hill, Jr.

Sharmar was playing last week outside his home in Hillside Court, one of Richmond’s infamous housing projects. He was shot and killed in a flurry of shooting. The alleged killer, Antonio L. Harris, had been arrested in November and charged with a carjacking. Two weeks after his arrest, he was granted bond and placed on home electronic monitoring. Friday, he was allegedly involved in another carjacking involving a Lyft driver. Previously, the 21-year-old had pleaded guilty to possession of heroin, possession of a sawed-off shotgun, and underage possession of a firearm. Continue reading

Update: Geriatric Prison Release Bill Advances

The Virginia Senate has voted 21-to-19 to make prison inmates (including many murderers) eligible for “geriatric release” as early as age 50. The vote was largely along party lines, with all Democrats except Lynwood Lewis voting for the bill, and all Republicans except Emmett Hanger voting against it. Continue reading

Democrats Slow Down on Criminal Justice Reform

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

As Steve Haner remarked in an earlier post, the changes being enacted by Democrats in this year’s session are on many fronts and more extensive than many observers had anticipated. It is hard to keep up.

The same is true in the criminal justice area, but, perhaps to a lesser extent. A lot of changes in the law are being made, but, as for major systemic change, the Democrats have decided to slow down and look at the issues a little bit harder.

Sen. John Edwards, (D-Roanoke, submitted a bill reinstating parole (SB 91) would undoubtedly have been the one to make the most change in the system. Even after it was amended to prevent violent offenders from being eligible for parole, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee decided to carry it over until next year, pending study. (It is not clear who or what will study it. When parole was abolished, there was a major legislative study. Efforts to look at parole since then have also involved some sort of committee or task force.)

Another area in which the leadership has elected to go slow is that of criminal record expungement. According to the Daily Press, nearly 30 bills related to expungement of convictions for marijuana possession, larceny, and prostitution offenses were introduced. The chairmen of the House and Senate Courts of Justice Committees agreed to carry those over and request the Virginia State Crime Commission to study the issue. Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, chairman of the House committee, said, “This is something I believe in. I just want to do this right.” Continue reading

Inside the (Pin) Heads of White Supremacists

Patrik Mathews (left) and Brian Lemley at a store in Delaware where they purchased 150 rounds for target practice.

by James A. Bacon

Remember those three white supremacists the FBI arrested four days before the big gun-rights rally? They referred to themselves as “The Base,” peddled their vile ideology online, discussed committing acts of violence, engaged in para-military training, and assembled a “functioning assault rifle.” The FBI, which had been closely monitoring the group, scooped up the three men when they were holed up in Delaware before they could descend upon the Richmond rally and afflict violence.

The Washington Post, New York Times, and other publications ran articles highlighting fears that the Richmond rally might turn into another Charlottesville, and Governor Ralph Northam imposed a state of emergency, stating, “I took this action to protect Virginians from credible threats of violence. These threats are real — as evidenced by reports of neo-Nazis arrested this morning after discussing plans to head to Richmond with firearms.”

Fortunately, most neo-Nazis and white supremacists are not only losers, they’re morons. (I hope I’m not offending anyone with my “ablist” nomenclature.) Federal documents relating to Brian Mark Lemley J., Patrik Jordan Mathews, and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, detail not only their odious views and evolving plans but their malign stupidity. Continue reading

UR in Uproar over Racist Graffiti

Anti-racism protest at UR basketball game this weekend.

by James A. Bacon

The University of Richmond is in a state of shock after three alleged acts of racially motivated vandalism. The dormitory door of an African American student was defaced last week by the N-word. Additionally, two students of Middle Eastern descent were targeted with slurs.

UR President Ronald Crutcher described the incidents as “disgusting” and a “cowardly and racist act.” “An act of racism against any of us on this campus is an act that affronts all of us, and everything we are committed to as a University community,” he said. “We will not tolerate members of our community being targeted for harassment based on their identities.”

The incidents occurred as the university is holding dialogues to foster a more inclusive community. The Black Student Alliance, the Multicultural Solidarity Network and even the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have chimed in. CAIR called for a federal hate crime investigation.

A federal hate crime investigation is a good idea. Federal investigators are likely to be attuned to a possibility that no one on the UR campus appears to be: that a large percentage, perhaps an outright majority, of hate crimes on college campuses in the U.S. are hoaxes perpetrated by activists seeking to raise anti-racism consciousness. Continue reading

Virginia Likely to Avoid “Marijuana Legalization Trap” in 2020

By DJ Rippert

Reefer madness. Virginia is notably lagging most other states in marijuana reform. Across America recreational marijuana is legal for adults in 11 states and legal for medical use in 33 states. Twenty-five states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. In Virginia marijuana is illegal, criminalized and unavailable for medical use. Yet change is blowing like smoke in the wind. As of today, there are six decriminalization bills pending in the General Assembly along with three bills for expungement of prior convictions, two legalization bills, and four bills to implement a medical marijuana regime in Virginia. Depending on which bills pass …  Virginia could be looking at a near-term marijuana environment much different than its prohibitionist past. However, there are some combinations of events that could lead The Old Dominion into unintended (and negative) consequences.

Roach trap. One likely outcome from the 2020 General Assembly session is that possession of small amounts of marijuana will be decriminalized while efforts to legalize the recreational and medical use of marijuana will fail. This could put Virginia in a very sub-optimal position if neighboring states legalize marijuana. Virginia is a small state bordered by five other states and the District of Columbia. A very high percentage of Virginians live within an easy drive of neighboring jurisdictions. If Virginia decriminalizes while neighboring states legalize, the result will be effective untaxed legalization in much of Virginia. A surge of Virginians will drive over various borders to bring back marijuana purchased legally elsewhere. Marijuana use would increase in Virginia while none of the financial benefits of legalization (via taxes) would accrue to Virginia. But how likely is it that neighboring states will legalize recreational marijuana in 2020? Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Wild and Crazy Edition

First the wild… The Virginia state Senate passed a bill, SB 657, earlier this week that would allow a person who changed his or her sex to have a new birth certificate issued, reports the Associated Press. Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the bill, says transgendered constituents have reported issues when leasing apartments, applying for jobs, and opening bank accounts. Permitting people to amend their birth certificates would help eliminate confusion when the a person’s legal identification doesn’t match his/her newly adopted sex. I confess that I can’t keep up with the evolving sex/gender controversies. How many sexes can people pick from these days? Wikipedia lists five sexes: male, female, hermaphrodite, female pseudohermaphrodite, and male pseudohermaphrodite. Will someone be able to pick between the five? Another question: Does the freedom to select one’s sex include one’s “gender”? In 2014 ABC news identified 58 genders — starting with agender, androgyne, androgynous, bigender, cis, cisgender, and on down the list. What logic prevents people from listing their gender (how they self identify) instead of their sex (what their sex organs look like)? By what logic does this bill not simply perpetuate the gisgendered patriarchy?

Now the crazy… A pair of bills under consideration in the House and Senate would amend current law and prohibit motorists from using smart phones while they drive. Unlike previous attempts to tighten the law, reports WTOP, this version would take steps to ensure that “people of color” aren’t disproportionately targeted. Language added by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, requires authorities to collect data “to make sure these laws are not disparately impacting communities of color and certain people.” What? I can’t find that language in the bill, HB 874. But assuming I’m overlooking something, I have a few questions: (1) Does Bourne have any evidence to suspect that the law banning smart phone use would be enforced more rigorously against “people of color” than whites? (2) Does “people of color” include Asians and white Hispanics, and does he have grounds to think that they might be targeted on the basis of race? (3) Let’s say for purposes of argument, that statistics show that African-Americans are ticketed more frequently than whites — is racism presumed? What would Bourne do about a ticketing disparity? Cap the number of African-Americans who can be ticketed?

And now the curious… It turns out that there are laws on the books that prohibit “transporting an alien” and “conspiring to harbor an alien” — “alien” referring of course to illegal immigrants. We don’t read about those laws very often; I have no idea how often they are applied. But they sure proved useful when federal prosecutors were throwing the book at the three white supremacists who were accused of plotting to attack the Richmond gun-rights rally in the hope of triggering a race war. Continue reading

A Spending Boost We Won’t Object to: Medicaid Fraud Prevention

Participants in the REAL LIFE program.

by James A. Bacon

As legislators ponder the next two-year budget, which incorporates a $2.2 billion-per-year increase in spending (14%) in FY 2022 compared to the current fiscal year, they would do well to take into account a new Medicaid scam.

Medicaid covers expenses categorized as “mental health skill building.” These mental-health services are particularly valuable to the homeless, drug and alcohol addicts, and people coming out of incarceration. Since the enactment of Medicaid expansion, the number of agencies providing such services has increased significantly. And so have the fraudsters who have learned how to game the system.

‘We have seen mental health skill builders drive their clients to our Community Center, sit in the waiting room sometimes for two to three hours while waiting for us to deliver services; meanwhile they are billing Medicaid,” says Sarah Scarbrough, director of REAL LIFE, a nonprofit that serves marginalized populations. Continue reading

Early-Release-For-Murderers Bill Advances

A Virginia Senate committee voted Friday 9-to-5 (largely along party lines) to make many murderers eligible for release when they reach age 50. SB 624 effectively reinstates parole for many long-time inmates, even though the Virginia legislature abolished parole in 1995. The bill also guts Virginia’s three-strikes law, which required life without parole for offenders convicted of three separate murders, rapes, or robberies, or any combination of the three.

SB 624 would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. Inmates would not be eligible for geriatric release under the bill if they committed a “Class 1 felony,” but such felonies are reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. First-degree murder, classified as a Class 2 felony, would be affected by the bill.

Supporters of the bill cited low recidivism rates by offenders previously given “geriatric release” in their 60s or later ages. But that doesn’t justify granting geriatric release to people in their 50s, who are younger and more capable of committing murder and rape. Moreover, changes to the parole board’s composition may lead to higher rates of geriatric release in the future, resulting in the release of higher-risk offenders. Continue reading

Will Middle-Aged Killers Get Early Release?

John Reginald Christie, an English serial killer and necrophiliac who killed into his 50s.

by Hans Bader

A Virginia bill, SB 624, would make middle-aged murderers and rapists eligible for “geriatric release.” It would do so even though “geriatric” is precisely about being old. It is defined in the dictionary as “old, elderly,” or “relating to, or appropriate for elderly people.”

Under SB 624, a prison inmate would be eligible for geriatric release if he is 50 years old, or 55 years old, depending on how long he has been in prison. Such inmates are not old, but middle-aged. As the Merriam Webster dictionary notes, “middle-aged people” are “people between the age of about 40 and the age of about 60.” Wikipedia describes middle age as extending to 65 — far above age 50.  I am 50 years old, and have never been treated as old for any purpose.

The bill would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. That’s lower than the age at which famous serial killers were still active. These inmates are younger than serial murderer Albert Fish, who killed starting at age 54, and Dorothea Puente, who killed from age 53 to 59. Many other serial killers continued killing into their 50s, such as Peter Tobin (up to age 60), John Reginald Christie (up to age 53), and Ted Kaczynski (into his 50s). The murder rate is much lower for people in their 60s than in their 50s, but there are people who commit murder even in their 70s. Continue reading

Amazon’s Security Collaborative: Cool or Creepy?

HQ2 rendering

by James A. Bacon

Amazon.com, Inc., is pushing for an intelligence-sharing alliance with law enforcement and emergency-management agencies around its Arlington office complex, similar to arrangement it already has with its Seattle headquarters, reports the Washington Business Journal.

On the positive side, Arlington police and other participants could gain access to Amazon’s tech, best practices, and intelligence-gathering methods. On the other hand, deeper collaboration and information sharing between one of the nation’s biggest corporations and law-enforcement sounds kind of Orwellian.

“Amazon can take a leadership role in the region and establish a new NOVA/Washington DC Regional Security Council (modeled after the Greater Seattle Security Council),” wrote Florence Chung, in charge of Amazon’s public-private partnerships, in an Aug. 1 email. It would “promote collaboration and information sharing between security leadership from both the private sector and public sector.” Continue reading