© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Youngkin gets mixed reviews on final criminal justice reform actions of 2024 session

(Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)
(Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

Governor Glenn Youngkin ran on a law-and-order platform. And while that may have put most criminal justice reform efforts on the chopping block, advocates and elected officials were surprised by what survived his veto pen this session.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ

Youngkin signed new laws creating  independent oversight of the state’s Department of Corrections, added  reasonable limits on the use of canines in prisons and nixed their use in juvenile facilities entirely.

He also signed a  bill by Democratic Delegate Irene Shin, which orders jails to put profits from commissary purchases and phone calls back into jail programs, not employees' pockets.

“Programs for rehabilitation, educational and recreational use for people in their charge,” Shin told Radio IQ.

The Herndon-area delegate had been working to combat profiteering in state facilities for years. Jails were first given the power to work with vendors and collect income years ago, and in the wake of 2008 crash-austerity measures, they were given the ability to keep those funds.

During testimony in defense of her effort earlier this year, Shin presented a basket of goods which cost about $40 as a jail commissary. She got the same items for half as much at a local grocery store. And while her income-cutting measure may have been tossed, the bill was amended to require any funds to go to rehabilitation programs instead.

Shin called the governor's move “progress in the right direction.

But she also had a  bill that allows the state’s Parole Board to act on matters, even if the board isn’t fully appointed or present. Any action sans-full membership does require a unanimous vote by the board to take any further action, but Shin again took the win where she could get it.

“It’s about making sure these public bodies are empowered to do the people’s work actually do the people’s work,” she said.

But it wasn’t all good news; Youngkin did veto an  effort that she said would have given more discretion to judges in juvenile punishment for traffic violations.

Youngkin defended the veto saying, “the bill undermines public safety by sending the wrong message about accountability and responsibility among young offenders.” But Shin said existing laws will disproportionately burden lower income families who can’t afford to pay fines for their kids.

“This idea of accountability isn’t really accountable if it's going to be determined by their families and if their families can pay off the fine’s the courts are assessing,” she warned.

Justice Forward’s Rob Poggenklass also advocated for changes in the juvenile justice space. He was hoping Youngkin would sign a collection of expungement efforts, which included  expungement for juvenilesonce they turn 29.

But Youngkin vetoed that measure fearing "automatically erasing criminal records at a specific age, especially for serious offenses committed during adolescence, will negatively affect public safety."

But Poggenklass said the veto and its explanation were more cruel than just.  He’s saying, ‘Once adjudicated delinquent as a child, always adjudicated delinquent as a child,'” he said.

As for the  other  two expungement efforts, they too were vetoed after Youngkin said they would have allowed offenders to avoid the consequences of their actions.

But Poggenklass pushed back on the idea.

“How do you say someone is avoiding the full consequences of their actions by expunging a record of something they were never convicted of,” he told Radio IQ,

Still, Poggenklass thanked Youngkin for agreeing with Democrats on a  raise for court-appointed attorneys — the first such raise for those who handle about 54% of low-income defendants in the Commonwealth. 

Another mixed reaction to Youngkin came from Shawn Weneta with the ACLU of Virginia. He helped build bipartisan support for  changes in earned sentence credits, which would have gotten well-behaved, incarcerated people out of state custody sooner, saving millions of dollars. And Democrats, in their conference budget, used those millions to boost victims' services.

But the swap didn’t survive the governor’s budget amendments Monday.

“It’s going to be even harder to provide victim services if the governor's slashing victim funding,” he warned.

But he still gave Youngkin a nod for the effort to limit the use of dogs in state correctional facilities. He said research showed there were about 295 dog bites in prisons nationally, but 270 were in the Commonwealth.

“It’s a VA problem, not a national problem,” he said.

Another surprise was Youngkin’s sign off on new independent oversight of the state’s Department of Corrections. He said a new board will be created, and a paid ombudsman position funded.

“A lot of these things we tried to study, people were unsure what to do with them,” Weneta said. “But this will be an opportunity to get good and independent information to elected officials and not have the DOC policing themselves.”