Arlington, VA

Last week, we asked the two Democratic candidates in the Commonwealth’s Attorney race to write a sub-750 word essay on why the county’s residents should vote for them in the June 11 primary.

Here is the unedited response from Parisa Dehghani-Tafti:

My family and I are blessed to be part of this community. We are rightly proud of our schools, our local government, and the leadership role Arlington and the City of Falls Church have taken in the Commonwealth across a number of issues. The glaring exception remains our criminal justice system. But together we can change that and bring much needed reform to our Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office while keeping our families safe.

Many of you have told me your stories of the need for reform, and these stories have fueled this campaign:

Victims and people within the system told me the Commonwealth’s Attorney does not prioritize prosecuting acquaintance rape; wage earners said the office refuses to prosecute wage theft cases; our elected officials told me the Commonwealth’s Attorney routinely opposes their reform bills; parents of young teens report they have been pressured into pleas that leave their children with criminal records for youthful mistakes; families of loved ones with disabilities, mental illness, or addiction live in fear of the lack of real diversion programs; and community members are shocked to learn of the racial disparities in prosecutions and the jail population.

The data confirm your stories:

Since 2011, reports of rape and sexual assault have gone up 63% while the number of convictions has gone down 73%. Last year, the most frequent charge brought by the office was for simple marijuana possession.   In the last 6 years, over 3,200 such cases were prosecuted, 57% of which in the last 2 years were of Black people. Between 2013 and 2018, the average daily jail population increased 17% and is still higher per capita than it was at the height of the 1980s War on Drugs. Only in this election cycle has it suddenly gone down.

I will bring real reform by using restorative justice to decrease recidivism and help survivors; expanding diversion programs for youth; eliminating cash bail; establishing a mental health docket so that mental illness is treated and not prosecuted; stop prosecuting simple marijuana possession; being mindful that minor charges not lead to deportation; providing fair electronic discovery; working to establish an independent review mechanism for use of force; focusing on violent and serious crimes such as sexual assault, elder abuse, financial fraud, and wage theft; and collecting and sharing data to make the office transparent.

These reforms are well within the discretion of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Charlottesville eliminated cash bail almost 20 years ago; Prince William and Norfolk have mental health courts; Washington County, with a fifth of our population, has a drug court that serves 37, while ours serves only 9; Fairfax and Alexandria have long provided electronic discovery; Loudoun and Fairfax have restorative justice programs.

I know the community is eager for these reforms because of the breadth of support our campaign has received. The Washington Post endorsed me because I have the right experience for the job.  Governor McAuliffe, former State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, former County Board Members Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, and Chris Zimmerman, and former Arlington Deputy Police Chief James Younger endorsed me because they trust me to keep us safe. Delegates Marcus Simon and Mark Levine, as well as Senator Adam Ebbin endorsed me because I will be an honest reform partner with them.  School Board Members Nancy Van Doren and Monique O’Grady, and the Arlington Education Association endorsed me because I will treat kids like kids. The carpenters, electrical workers, pipe trades, and service workers unions all endorsed me because I will protect workers’ rightsGreater Greater Washington, Indivisible Arlington, BlueNova, Arlington Action Group, Our Revolution Arlington, CASA in Action, New Virginia Majority endorsed me because it’s time to put justice back in the criminal justice system.

I humbly ask for your vote on June 11 as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and the City of Falls Church so that we can build a criminal justice system that keeps us safe and that reflects our values.

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