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New Top Prosecutor Pledges to Visit Correctional Facilities

Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has announced plans to visit the correctional facilities to which she and her assistant prosecutors will be sending guilty defendants.

Tafti, who will take over at the top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church on Jan. 1, says it’s important for prosecutors to understand the correctional end of the criminal justice system to ensure “a just punishment for defendants.”

Tafti and her staff will, over the next year, “complete visits to their local prison, jail and juvenile facilities, and implement ongoing requirements for staff,” according to a press release. Nearly 40 prosecutors across the country have committed to similar visits.

The future of Arlington’s juvenile detention center is currently up for discussion. Tafti, meanwhile, last week announced the appointment of her chief deputy, a respected veteran of the Commonwealth’s Attorney office.

More on the correctional visits, from the press release:

Today Parisa Dehghani-Tafti joined 38 elected prosecutors from across the country and committed to personally visit the correctional facilities in which individuals prosecuted by their office are placed. Recognizing that “it is vital for prosecutors to understand the true impact of their decisions and to see firsthand the jails, prisons and juvenile facilities in their jurisdiction,” these elected leaders also committed to implementing requirements for all prosecutors in their offices to visit these facilities and to incorporate this concept into ongoing job expectations.

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Commonwealth’s Attorney Elect for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, said, “A prosecutor’s job is to hold in her mind and weigh in practice the safety of the community, the needs of victims, and a just punishment for defendants.  How can we achieve that balance unless we see and understand for ourselves the outcomes of our decisions?”

Despite the fact that prosecutors have immense influence over who becomes incarcerated and for how long, many have never set foot inside a prison, jail or juvenile correctional facility. As more prosecutors implement reforms to shrink the footprint of the justice system, it is critical to develop a deep understanding of correctional facilities – including an understanding of how isolated, dehumanizing and unsafe conditions can impact an individual’s rehabilitation efforts, and in turn the safety of the communities to which they return.

“Prosecutors control the front door of the justice system through their charging decisions — and so much that follows in the lives of individuals in their community when that door is opened,” said Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution. “As such, they have an obligation to see and understand the conditions in the jails and prisons where their advocacy sends people, as well as the impact of those decisions on the individuals incarcerated within their walls, their families and the broader community. Today’s pledge, joined in by a wide swath of prosecutors from around the country, seeks to embed in the culture of DAs’ offices the recognition that decisions to incarcerate someone should never be taken lightly. We hope that by bringing prosecutors closer to those impacted by their actions, they will have a new perspective as they weigh the decision to incarcerate against other options that will keep individuals in community settings.”

The pledge will be implemented by Ms. Tafti’s Office over the coming year, during which time she, as well as all prosecutors in her office, will complete visits to their local prison, jail and juvenile facilities, and implement ongoing requirements for staff. This is a build out of the initiative launched by FAMM as part of their #VisitAPrison challenge, an effort to encourage elected policy leaders throughout all levels of government to personally visit correctional facilities.

Read the full pledge statement here and see below for a full list of pledge participants.

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