© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Virginia's prison population declined, but trailed the national average

In the last decade, the prison population in Virginia has declined about 10 percent. That's according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sean Weneta at the ACLU says a number of factors are at work behind that decline.

"Crime has been on the decline, and fewer people are getting arrested. We've also seen some prosecutors being more willing to divert people to community interventions.”

In the same time that Virginia's prison population declined 10 percent, the national average was a 25 percent decline. So Virginia is well behind states that are leading the trend, like Connecticut, New Jersey, California and New York. The prison population in those states declined 30 percent or more.

Click here for the data

Brad Haywood at Justice Forward Virginia says that's because of Virginia's longtime resistance to criminal-justice reform.

"When other states were focused on getting rid of mandatory minimums and making sentences less reflexively retributive, Virginia was doing the exact opposite. We've added mandatory minimums. We've made it easier to overcharge people, and made it easier for courts and prosecutors to recommend extreme sentences."

The numbers from the Justice Department end in 2020, so they do not reflect criminal justice reforms Democrats were able to pass when they were in power. Add to that efforts to reduce the prison population during the pandemic, and that could mean an even steeper decline in Virginia’s incarceration rates in the future.

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.