The Justice Policy Institute’s Billion Dollar Divide evaluates Virginia’s correctional system and finds that it is not promoting improvement or community well-being. According to the study, Virginia lawmakers predict the state’s correctional system budget will exceed one billion dollars by 2015. The question analyzed in this study is whether Virginia has an effective correctional system in place now with a prison population larger than two-thirds of those in the rest of the nation, a high concentration of which are African-Americans charged with felonies. The study also shows that a greater dependence on the criminal justice and correctional system is not making Virginia communities safer as crime rates continue to rise.
The study also notes the following problematic results from Virginia’s heavy reliance on such a system:
- More people serving longer sentences
- More people coming into the system
- Fewer people leaving the system
Specific impacts on communities of color are seen in the study, as well. Although African-Americans make up only 20% of Virginia’s state population, they constitute 61% of Virginia’s state prisoners. A residual effect of the high incarceration rates for African-Americans is the African-American community loses a significant number of its votes since a felony conviction eliminates the ability to vote.
As a remedy, the study asserts that sentencing and parole reform are necessary. Also, restoring the right to vote will ensure minority groups are accurately represented in elections.
Patrice Garnette, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, The George Washington University Law School