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Effort to Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Met a Disappointing End, But Will Likely be Back

One of the big disappointments for many criminal justice advocates in this year’s General Assembly session was a failure to ditch mandatory minimums.

Just because a bill passes the House and passes the Senate does not mean it'll end up on the governor's desk. Sometimes everything falls apart at the last minute when House and Senate members are trying to reconcile differences. That's what happened to a bill that would have repealed mandatory minimum sentences, a longtime goal for people seeking criminal justice reform.

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says there's always next year.  "The challenges of getting something passed in 2021 may be a bit less daunting in 2022 when there is a new legislature, and there is a new opportunity to consider some of the measures that fell short at the last minute."

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says election year sensitivities might be the reason lawmakers were unable to find agreement during the conference committee.  "I think the Republican candidate is going to essentially argue that Democrats have gone too far and that Democrats have made Virginia less safe, and so the idea that there would be some hesitation on removing mandatory minimums is a cautionary move on the part of some Democrats."

Even if the bill didn't end up on the governor's desk, the issue of ending all those mandatory minimum sentences from the tough-on-crime 90's is likely to be a major topic of discussion out on the campaign trail this year.

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.