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Arlington sees two crimes in two weeks allegedly committed by men awaiting trial in Fairfax County

An Arlington County police car with lights flashing (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 9:40 p.m.) The man who was arrested on Sunday for robbery and carjacking after an inter-jurisdiction car chase on I-395 was awaiting trial in Fairfax County for stealing a car, court records show.

Laysohn Jones, 21, of Suitland, Maryland, had a hearing date set for May 2 for the auto theft charge, as well as a preliminary hearing for a failure to appear and charges for driving without a license and eluding police. He had been “released on recognizance,” according to court records, or released without bail when he allegedly committed the crime.

And two weeks ago, a man who has committed a slew of petty thefts over the last five years — from the Springfield Mall, Tysons Corner Center, and a CVS pharmacy and Macy’s in Pentagon City — was arrested on nearly a half-dozen charges.

Ronald D. Thomas, 24, is now being held without bond in the Arlington County Detention Facility for his most recent alleged crimes — spitting on an officer, grand larceny, petit larceny, trespassing and identify theft — as well as an outstanding warrant from Fairfax County for grand larceny. Court records indicate he also had a felony second-degree assault charge from Maryland and a misdemeanor assault charge in D.C.

These cases have some blaming recent bail reforms, championed by many prosecutors who were elected on pledges to reform the criminal justice system.

“Repeat criminals are crossing jurisdictional lines and facing no consequences in first, second and third jurisdictions due to progressive policies like abolishing bail,” said Sean Kennedy, a spokesman for Virginians for Safe Communities, an organization that launched efforts last year to unseat the Commonwealth’s Attorneys for Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington counties.

“They go on to commit more crime elsewhere and those jurisdictions don’t understand their full criminal history because the same prosecutors have downgraded serious charges to light misdemeanors,” he continued. “More and more people are suffering because of that.”

Those who champion reforms to the criminal justice system, however, say repeat offense cases like these have long existed and systems like jail and bail did not deter people from offending over and over again. They add that these policies did nothing to solve underlying problems driving the criminal behavior, such as drug addiction and unstable housing.

“The inclination is, ‘We need to send him to jail for longer.’ We tried that before — that doesn’t work either,” said Arlington’s Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood.

He refuted the idea that there is a “progressive prosecution angle” at work, referencing the ongoing political tug-of-war between reform-minded prosecutors like Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, whose changes have prompted some backlash, and those who advocate for more stringent prosecution and punishment.

“This is a problem that has been an issue for decades in the U.S.,” Haywood said. “This is an issue, very broadly, with the criminal justice system.”

Bond reforms 

Eliminating cash bail was a campaign promise of both Dehghani-Tafti, whose office does not ask for cash bail, and her counterpart in Fairfax, Steve Descano, who formally eliminated cash bail in 2020.

In the case of the carjacking, Randall Mason, the president of the Arlington Coalition of Police, said Fairfax County’s release of the alleged carjacker put officers, the driver and the public at risk of injury.

“He went out and did the same thing again, and it put Arlington officers at risk because pursuits are inherently dangerous,” Mason said. “Luckily everyone was safe, and no citizens injured.”

Police are concerned about and frustrated by the pattern of people who are arrested for serious offenses and released without bond, Mason said.

Dehghani-Tafti countered that her office does seek to hold people deemed to be dangerous or a flight risk.

“It’s the danger you pose, not whether or not you have cash, that should control whether you are released pre-trial or not,” she said.

Cases in which people who were awaiting trial when they committed another offense are in the minority and as such should not direct policy, Dehghani-Tafti maintains.

“If 100 individuals get released pre-trial and 99 go back to work, return to school, or just take care of their kids, it’s not news,” she said. “Only the one person out of 100 who reoffends will be news. But how do you use that to make policy? Do you say, better to hold 100 persons in jail pretrial than run the risk one will reoffend? But what if holding all 100 pretrial actually increases the risk that a greater number will reoffend in the future?”

What causes recidivism 

People who go to jail leave “worse off than when they went into it,” says Elizabeth Jones Valderrama, the executive director of Offender Aid Restoration, a nonprofit serving Arlington and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church that supports former inmates.

“Jail time often worsens the situation because people lose their belongings, including identification cards, medical cards, prescription drugs, or clothing. They also lose income, educational opportunities, or housing opportunities,” she says.

Citing a variety of studies, Dehghani-Tafti says incarceration triggers recidivism rather than deterring it, while diversion from the traditional justice system has been proven to lower the likelihood someone will reoffend.

Over a 10-year period, one study she cited found the probability of any future conviction for first-time felony defendants who were diverted from the traditional justice system declined by 48%, while quarterly employment rates improved by 53%.

In another, recidivism was 10 percentage points lower for youth who were diverted from the criminal justice system, 31.5%, than youth who were processed through the traditional justice system, 41.3%.

“The kinds of diversion we are developing in Arlington hold people accountable in an active way,” Dehghani-Tafti said.” Nothing works in every instance, but diversion programs do work, as the studies demonstrate; meanwhile, the system we have now fails time and time again, and is never held to account.”

Court records for Thomas do not indicate whether he has been a part of any diversion programs. Instead, his conditions of bail have included staying away from drugs and alcohol and from the places he shoplifted from, and his convictions included suspended sentences with probation and fines.

He has been fined to the tune of $1,890 across jurisdictions — much of which has not been paid, according to court records.

Thomas is set to next appear in court on May 13. He may, or may not, face prison time, as the Virginia legislature repealed a “three strikes” rule for petty larceny, under which offenders would have faced a prison term of up to five years after their third offense. Legislators in 2020 also raised the threshold for grand larceny from stealing items worth $300 to $1,000.

Possible solutions 

One possible solution could be more proactive policing. For example, after a spate in carjackings in 2020, Arlington County Police Department stepped up its policing in hot spots and joined a D.C.-area task force, resulting in a decline in carjackings in 2021.

Meanwhile, Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage says ACPD has a Business Outreach Unit that regularly meets with business owners, managers and loss prevention staff to hear their concerns and share crime prevention strategies.

“As time and resources permit, officers conduct high visibility patrols in shopping centers and commercial areas throughout the county to identify and prevent criminal activity,” she said.

So far, there have been 175 shoplifting reports in 2022 and of those, 105 cases closed with arrests involving a total of 122 people and 13 cases closed with the arrest of two offenders. Juveniles represented slightly more than 8% of the total number of arrested individuals, which is comparable to previous years’ percentages.

As for what happens after the arrest, Mason said he’s not sure what the answer is, as the reform-minded approaches — while trying to address the root cause of the crime — seem to allow some to simply continue their criminal behavior.

“You have locking people up as one solution, and the other solution, which is to figure out the underlying problem and address that,” he said. “Different criminals are motivated by different factors… I could see where an alternative to locking them up [could be effective] but I don’t know what that looks like or what that is.”

In her work, Valderrama says services that tackle underlying reasons people commit crimes — like housing instability and drug addiction — need to provide support for the long term to be effective. The most effective way to lift someone from a cycle of crime, she said, is to give them financial support without making them beg or placing arbitrary restrictions on how they use that money.

OAR gives almost $300,000 in direct funding services for help with housing, employment, transportation, clothing, food, utilities, eviction prevention, vocational and educational costs, treatment costs, family reunification and debt repayment.

“People who are unhoused aren’t going to have all of their problems solved if we provide a two-week hotel stay. They may need longer-term supportive housing. People who need substance use disorder treatment may require more than a 20-day treatment program,” she said. “These solutions sound expensive, but they are actually a lot cheaper than the money we are throwing into the legal system.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Virginia failed to repeal the “three strikes rule” for petit larceny. It was repealed as of July 1, 2021. 

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