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This Week's Primary Results May Spark Significant Changes to Virginia's Criminal Justice System

Two local races in Northern Virginia might have big implications for the criminal justice system in Virginia.

Elections for commonwealth’s attorneys don’t usually attract all that much attention, although this year’s primaries for the top prosecutors in Fairfax and Arlington did. That’s because both races featured longtime incumbents losing to progressive challengers who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform — ending the cash bail system, stopping marijuana prosecutions and dropping the death penalty.

Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says the implications of all that are unknown.

“You are going to effectively see the legalization of marijuana on a small scale, and you are going to see the adoption of a no cash bail system," he explains. "And what effect that has on crime and recidivism and other issues are yet to be seen.”

Maya Castillo at New Virginia Majority says too much effort and money and time goes into prosecuting nonviolent crime.

“I’m not sold that means essentially more crime," says Castillo. "I think it means the potential for a fairer system that doesn’t consistently target communities of color.”

Neither of these two progressive nominees has a Republican opponent. So winning the primary this week is essentially winning the election, although they won’t take over their courtroom roles until January.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.