During a forum on criminal justice issues this weekend, all eight candidates for Richmond mayor held up "yes" cards in response to a question of whether they would support decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. All eight also said they would support allocating funds for programs to prevent low-level arrests, addressing issues such as housing and transportation. They seemed to agree that inmates should be allowed to spend time with Public Works crews and that the $200 threshold for a felony theft charge should be raised. Here are some of the comments from the forum, held at the Richmond Public Library by the New Virginia Majority, Richmond NAACP branch and Kinfolks Community.
Jon Baliles: We need to expand our use of the day reporting center [where those serving a sentence or on probation can receive treatment, take classes and prepare for jobs or further education]. The Richmond Justice Center should not be a debtors' prison. Someone shouldn’t be held there because they owe $50. Some nonprofits will pay the debt and allow the person to work it off. We need to make sure people coming out of the Justice Center don't have fines.
Jack Berry: We need to offer after-school programs, mentors, coaches, summer recreation and jobs programs — everything we can do to keep these kids from getting into the system in the first place. Nearly 20 percent of the incarcerated have mental health issues. We need drug treatment programs and supportive housing. We need to allow people to get drivers' licenses before they pay off their fines.
Bobby Junes: Nonviolent felons should be given a chance to reduce their sentences in half, with good behavior, by serving on public works projects such as cutting grass and earning $1 per day, or $1 per hour.
Joe Morrissey: There should be a presumption in favor of bond. Mandatory minimum sentences and for-profit prisons should be eliminated. We could expand first-offender programs so someone who owes child support payments won’t be locked up. Give ex-inmates an application for restoration of rights when they’re exiting jail. The minimum for a felony [theft charge] should be $1,500.
Michelle Mosby: I sponsored the “ban the box” measure [eliminating the requirement for city job applicants to reveal felony convictions on applications] and support allowing a person in jail to have employment with public works. We need more detox beds. We should enhance programs that are in place. We’re already working with partners like McShin Foundation and OAR of Richmond.
Levar Stoney: We spend $13,000 per pupil each year and $30,000 [annually] on a resident of the Richmond Justice Center. More money should be spent on diversion services. I was pushing the envelope on restoration of rights [as secretary of the commonwealth]. We should go beyond “ban the box.” Want to be a vendor with the city? Hire someone who’s been incarcerated.
Bruce Tyler: If inmates do public works tasks, they should earn a fair wage so they’ll have money when they get out. As an alternative to incarceration, keeping someone at home is a better solution. We should be moving toward recovery courts.
Lawrence Williams: I would work with Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring and Sheriff C.T. Woody to develop work/study programs for inmates. The biggest issue is jobs. We have to have mixed economic development communities.