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
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
Posted in Agriculture & forestry, Business and Economy, Commentary, Courts and law, Crime and corrections, General Assembly, Regulation
Tagged DJ Rippert, Don Rippert, marijuana, Marijuana reform, other states
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
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
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
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
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
Del. Don Scott
by Hans Bader
A proposed law would require Virginia prisons to release many murderers when they reach age 60 or 65, even if prison officials know they are dangerous. Under a bill proposed Friday by Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, parole officials would be stripped of their authority to block such inmates’ release.
Right now, Virginia’s parole board has the leeway to grant “geriatric release” to many older inmates. If it wants to, it can release inmates if they have been in prison for ten years and have reached the age of 60, or if they have been in prison for five years and have reached the age of 65 — as long as they haven’t committed a “Class 1” felony, which includes certain types of murders.
But it doesn’t have to release such inmates, and it tends not to, unless an inmate is both in poor health, and no longer dangerous.
Scott’s bill would totally change this, leaving state officials powerless to block the release of Class 2 felons, such as rapists and killers whose homicide didn’t rise to the level of a Class 1 felony. It says:
Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of 65 or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of 60 or older and who has served at least 10 years of the sentence imposed shall be granted conditional release.
Released from prison because he was considered too old to be dangerous, 77-year-old Maine resident Albert Flick killed Kimberly Dobbie in front of her sons in 2018.
by Hans Bader
Virginia’s governor wants to make most murderers eligible for parole when they reach age 50. You’d never know that from reading the news stories written by liberal reporters. They say Democratic Governor Ralph Northam wants to help “elderly” inmates.
But that’s contradicted by the governor’s own website. Under his plan, it says, “An individual would be eligible for consideration of parole if they are at least 50 years old and have served 20 years, or are 55 years old and have served 15 years.” A person who is 50 years old or 55 years old is middle-aged, not elderly. Most definitions put middle age as from 45 to 65, and none define people under age 60 as elderly.
But liberal-leaning press entities like the Associated Press didn’t report the fact that Northam’s proposal could result in the release of middle-aged murderers, or people at age 50 or 55. The Associated Press claimed the governor “wants to extend parole eligibility for prisoners who are elderly.” And the Daily Press reported that “Northam wants to give the state parole board more authority to grant early release from prison when inmates are elderly.”
That leaves the false impression that these inmates are so old that they are no threat to anyone. After all, virtually no one commits murder in their 80’s. But Governor Northam’s proposal would let inmates be released at 50 or 55, lower than the age at which famous serial killers were still active. These inmates are younger than serial murderer Albert Fish, who killed from age 54 to age 62, and Dorothea Puente, who killed from age 53 to 59. Many other serial killers continued killing into their 50’s, such as Peter Tobin (up to age 60), John Reginald Christie (up to age 53), and Ted Kaczynski (up to age 52). Continue reading
5G rollout reaches Virginia. Outside of Crystal City and the Reagan National Airport, Hampton Roads is the first region in Virginia to enjoy 5G cellular access. Verizon has announced that its 5G Ultra Wideband mobility service is available in the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, downtown Norfolk, Newport News, Old Dominion University, Hampton, Chesapeake, and other high-traffic locations, reports Virginia Business. Said Governor Ralph Northam in a statement: “This technology will propel the industries that drive coastal Virginia — the military, advanced manufacturing, logistics, higher education, health care, tourism and more. We can’t wait to see new opportunities unfold for workers and innovators.” The service is available in 31 other cities.
Virginia unemployment still 2.6%. Virginia’s unemployment rate remained at 2.6% in November, even as the labor force expanded by 13,326, or 0.3%. Employment set a record of 4.4 million people, reports Virginia Business. While Virginia job creation has lagged the national pace, there is a bit of good news within the numbers: Job creation is market driven, not government-driven. Year over year, the private sector added 47,400 jobs while the public sector shed 7,300 jobs.
…But never fear, government is still creating some jobs. For example, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has hired a diversity and inclusion officer. The 450-person department, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch has “struggled” with diversity: only 9% of employees earlier this year were “people of color,” compared with the average at Virginia agencies of 36%. Meanwhile, Virginia’s Office of the State Inspector General is conducting an audit of diversity and inclusion practices within state natural Resources agencies, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Continue reading
Left turn ahead — sharp left turn.
by Hans Bader
To some Americans, staunchly progressive California may seem too liberal. But not to Virginia’s Democratic legislators. They’re proposing legislation that would make Virginia more liberal than California. That includes letting murderers vote while in prison, and letting them be paroled even if a court has sentenced them to life without parole.
Virginia legislators have proposed allowing even the worst criminals to seek parole — such as a person convicted of murder who tortured his victim to death — even if a court sentenced them to life in prison at a time when parole did not exist. Virginia abolished parole in 1995, due to discontent over the fact that criminals were serving only about 30% of their sentences before being released.
But parole would be made available to even the worst murderers by a recently introduced bill, SB 91. It would retroactively extend parole rights to current inmates, as well as giving future criminals the right to seek parole. Most willful and premeditated murders are Class 2 offenses under Virginia law, for which parole would be available after 15 years. Continue reading
Photo credit: Snopes
By Don Rippert
Ready, fire, aim. In Virginia, it seems likely that the Democratic Party’s control of the General Assembly and Governorship will result in decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. This legislation will likely be passed in the 2020 session and go into law next summer. But what are the details of decriminalization? What specific policy decisions should our lawmakers consider when drafting the decriminalization legislation? Failing to consider these issues in advance of the legislative session could usher in a repeat of the shambolic attempt to legalize casino gambling in Virginia
By Don Rippert
Cannabis certitude. The seemingly inexorable march toward legalized marijuana in the United States continues unabated. A poll of 9,900 American adults conducted by the Pew Research Center from September 3 – 15, 2019 found that 67% of the respondents thought cannabis should be legalized. That’s five percentage points higher than Pew’s last poll on the subject conducted in 2018. Many state legislatures are acting on behalf of their constituents. Legal weed sales began last Sunday in Michigan and will commence on New Year’s Day in Illinois. At the federal level the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill legalizing marijuana at the federal level. As of today 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have approved the sale of recreational marijuana to adults. Six more states seem very likely to make decisions on legalizing recreational marijuana in 2020 – Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota. As legal marijuana becomes big business pundits are predicting the future of legal weed. Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics believe that medical marijuana will be legalized in every state by 2024 and recreational marijuana will be legal in 20 states by that date. Virginia is not among the 20.
Weed in the
Old Ancient Pre-historic Dominion. Virginia is one of 15 states where marijuana is fully illegal. (Note: I do not count CBD oil sales as partial legalization). The first step on the long road to legalization is usually decriminalization. In 2018 Virginia’s General Assembly considered a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. It was killed along a purely party line vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. In 2019 another decriminalization bill was considered. Virginia’s Republican leadership in the General Assembly couldn’t muster the minimal courage to take the 2019 bill to the full committee and killed it in sub-committee. Later that year the Republicans got their heads handed to them in the General Assembly election. What a surprise. Now Democrats hold a trifecta in Virginia with control of the House, Senate and Governorship. Once again, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is the patron for proposed legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, this year unlike the past, Ebbin’s party is in control.
by James A. Bacon
It sounded like such a good idea: Develop a criminal-sentencing algorithm to help judges identify felons least likely to reoffend and either give them shorter jail sentences or divert them to probation or substance-abuse treatment programs. Virginia created just such an algorithm in 2001. Minimizing the subjective element in sentencing, it was thought, might even reduce sentencing disparities between the races.
The results didn’t turn out entirely like people hoped. In a deep dive into the data, Megan T. Stevenson, a George Mason University professor, and Jennifer L. Doleac, of Texas A&M, authors of, “Algorithmic Risk Assessment in the Hands of Humans,” found that the Virginia algorithm does influence outcomes: Defendants with higher risk scores got longer sentences and defendants with lower risk scores got shorter sentences. However, they found “no robust evidence that this reshuffling led to a decline in recidivism.”
While they found no evidence of an increase in racial disparities statewide, the authors did find that among the judges most likely to factor the risk scores into their sentencing decisions, there was a “relative increase in sentences.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
When social breakdown, a drug epidemic and failed government institutions converge, this is what you get: babies like Charlee Ford (seen at left) born with opioids and marijuana in her system and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. After birth, her lungs failed for nine minutes before doctors revived her. In her short, tortured lifetime, she suffered from severe seizures. She died at an age of four months.
Graphic credit: Roanoke Times
The surging use and abuse of opioids and other illegal drugs such as methamphetamines is associated with a horrifying increase in the number of Virginia babies born addicted to drugs. Worse, these babies are usually born into totally dysfunctional families. Mothers and fathers are themselves are likely to be substance abusers, which puts the babies at high risk of abuse and neglect. Meanwhile, child protective services in Virginia are uneven in quality — some local programs, one might say, are as bureaucratically dysfunctional as the families they serve.
The Roanoke Times tells the tragic story here. The focus is on Rockbridge County in the Shenandoah Valley. But similar stories can be found all around the state. It’s a long story but worth the investment in time.
Bacon’s bottom line: Maybe the Roanoke Times article hit me harder today than it would have previously because this weekend I visited my month-old grandson for the first time and cradled the tiny, helpless little creature in my arms. He is a lucky one, blessed by two loving, hyper-conscientious parents who will take very good care of him. Many babies are not so fortunate. Charlee’s story prompts several thoughts…. Continue reading