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Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)

This Saturday, Arlington County’s top prosecutor, its Circuit Court clerk and some attorneys will help people who want their criminal record expunged for free.

The clinic will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday (Dec. 3) at Arlington Presbyterian Church, located off Columbia Pike at 918 S. Lincoln Street. It will provide everything attendees need in one place to request arrests that did not result in convictions be removed from their record.

“Even if you’ve been arrested and not convicted, that arrest can follow you every time you apply for a job, school, or an apartment,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow. “That harms people, their families, and the community. This clinic is one way we can mitigate that harm and give people a chance to live productive lives.”

She says this is the first time Arlington has offered an opportunity like this, but she hopes it isn’t the last.

“We wanted to do this for a long time but had to delay because of Covid,” she said. “Prince William has done it recently but I am not aware of any other jurisdictions in Virginia, though it is possible.”

Courts do not identify who is eligible to have their record expunged, so the aim of the clinic is to let people know what is available and what is possible, she says.

“The biggest difficulty is twofold: people don’t know they’re eligible and don’t apply, or others who are not eligible and apply are surprised to discover they are not,” she says. “So, one of our main goals is public education.”

Ahead of the clinic, her office partnered with the public defender’s office, the defense bar, local churches, and other community organizations to reach people who may be eligible.

Attorneys will provide pro-bono assistance and clinic sponsors are covering the $86 filing fee on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Attendees need to bring the arrest warrant or final letter of disposition for each charge they would like to be expunged.

Currently, Virginia law limits expungement to narrow circumstances, Dehghani-Tafti says. The Virginia General Assembly passed a new law that would expand eligibility for record sealing, but the changes won’t take effect until July 1, 2025. Even so, there is still room for improvements, Dehghani-Tafti adds.

Clinic sponsors include the Arlington Branch of the NAACP, the Arlington Coalition of Black Clergy and Black Parents of Arlington, as well as local nonprofits Bridges to Independence, Offender Aid and Restoration, Arlington Thrive, Arlington for Justice and the D.C.-based Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, where Dehghani-Tafti used to serve as legal director.

OAR Associate Deputy Director Mustafa Saboor said in a statement that this clinic is an important first step in helping people overcome unjust barriers.

“Our criminal legal system is overly punitive, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the way arrest records destroy people’s ability to work and live,” Saboor said. “Because Black and Brown communities are overpoliced throughout this country, barriers to work because of arrest records fall disproportionately on those communities, further entrenching deeply racist lines in this country.”

Dehghani-Tafti’s former deputy prosecutor announced on Tuesday that he will be challenging her in the 2023 Democratic primary.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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Jail entrance at the Arlington County Detention Facility

New grant funding will expand re-entry services for men incarcerated in Arlington County jail as they prepare to return home.

The $750,000 grant, available for three years, comes from the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Local nonprofit Offender Aid and Restoration, which provides 60% of the transition services offered at the Arlington County Detention Facility through the Community Readiness Unit (CRU), applied for the grant in May.

OAR has been heavily involved in the CRU since its inception seven years ago. The organization decided to fundraise to support their existing work and do more, according to Executive Director Elizabeth Jones Valderrama.

The new program “will have major long-term public safety benefits and will provide people coming home with badly needed support,” Valderrama said in a statement. “Research shows that in order to mitigate against the harm and discrimination that impact those who are incarcerated, individuals must have access to robust wraparound programming both before and after release.”

CRU provides daily programming on topics such as parenting, conflict resolution, healthy relationships, entrepreneurship, ethics, social justice, wellness and substance use regulation, she said. OAR also offers job training, therapy and basic Spanish.

Dubbed “Project Second and Fair Chances for Individuals and Families,” the plan includes hiring additional staff and purchasing more resources to improve its offerings. It will allow the nonprofit to work with 40 men nine months prior to their release and up to 18 months after their release.

Valderrama told ARLnow the grant will pay for:

  • two new therapeutic staff and additional therapeutic resources.
  • a new tool to evaluate participants and identify appropriate therapeutic supports and post-release plan
  • a third-party evaluator to gauge participants’ success and identify gaps in the nonprofit’s funding programming

Men who participate in the new program will have access to a range of pre-release services, including:

  • risk assessments
  • one-on-one reentry coaching and planning
  • weekly workshops about subjects like co-parenting, employment retention and conflict resolution
  • cognitive-behavioral therapies and psychotherapy

After their release, OAR’s “Project Second and Fair Chances for Individuals and Families” will provide:

  • intensive case management
  • psychotherapy
  • facilitated support groups
  • family support and reunification
  • referrals for educational and vocational training

“Currently, OAR follows participants for three months-post release before transitioning them to other partners,” Valderrama tells ARLnow. “The grant will allow OAR to do more for participants, for a longer period of time after release.”

After the money runs out in three years, OAR will need to seek out more funding to sustain the program.

The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office said it is thrilled to keep working with OAR and expanding resources for incarcerated individuals.

“Most of those incarcerated will return to our community and my staff and I are committed to offering programs and additional services to help their transition and ensure their success,” said Sheriff Beth Arthur in a statement to ARLnow.

In her statement, Valderrama said the grant will mostly serve to uplift Black men as they transition back to their communities.

“Seventy percent of OAR’s reentry participants are Black, compared to only 4-12% of the Arlington area, which reflects the institutional racism and anti-Blackness pervading our country and the criminal legal system,” Valderrama said.

Additionally, 80% live in poverty and 40% experience homelessness after their release, according to OAR.

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Arlington Branch NAACP First Vice President Kent Carter at a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

On Saturday afternoon, Kent Carter left Arlington to celebrate his 40th birthday on Turks and Caicos, the Caribbean islands southeast of the Bahamas, with his long-time girlfriend.

He was supposed to fly back on Tuesday.

Instead, while riding in a shuttle back from a jet-skiing excursion on Sunday evening, an alleged gang member opened fire on the vehicle. The gunman shot and killed Carter and an employee of a local business and wounded three others. The shooting has been covered by both local and national media outlets, including The New York Times.

His last act was to protect his girlfriend of eight years, who survived with minor injuries.

“He shielded me from being shot,” his girlfriend, who requested we not use her name, tells ARLnow.

Now, Arlington is mourning Carter’s death and paying tribute to his legacy as a local civil rights leader, loving father and caring partner. His story has attracted national attention and an outpouring of support from community members and local realtors with whom he worked, elected officials and regional and national leaders of the NAACP.

“We are devastated to learn of Kent’s loss and will be keeping his family in our prayers,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said in a statement to ARLnow. “Kent was a true leader in the Arlington community: knowledgeable and determined on civil rights issues and gifted at building relationships and coalitions.”

Carter, an Army veteran and a real estate agent by trade, was serving his second term as the First Vice-President of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, and the chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. He represented the NAACP on Arlington’s Police Practices Group, which came up with more than 100 ways to change policing in the county, and advocated for a Community Oversight Board with subpoena power, which was officially established last summer.

“Kent led that charge,” Julius “JD” Spain, president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, told ARLnow. “Many citizens in Arlington will benefit from the hard work that Kent put in. Words alone aren’t enough to express the level of gratitude for someone who not just wore the nation’s cloth, but one who’s a servant leader.”

The NAACP Arlington branch president said his First Vice-President was reserved but could command a room. He was duty-bound to his advocacy work and didn’t care about the accolades.

Arlington’s elected officials are now working to recognize Carter’s efforts, including his work with lawmakers on a criminal justice reform package several years ago, through a memorial resolution led by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30). It is expected to go before the Virginia legislature in January.

The memorial resolution recognizes “the esteem we in the Arlington delegation held Mr. Carter in,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “It is also in recognition of the impact of Kent’s work for social justice and in service to our country, which extended far beyond the borders of Arlington.”

Carter was born Sept. 28, 1982, and grew up outside Knoxville, Tennessee. He joined the military in 2000 and was first deployed to the Pentagon just after 9/11 to provide security. In 2002, he deployed to Afghanistan for six months as a member of a U.S. Army Personal Security Detail. While in Afghanistan, he met his ex-wife, Melanie Bell-Carter, to whom he was married for 11 years.

Carter also served as an airborne Army police officer and later, as a special agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Concurrent with his military career, he pursued his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice.

His lived experience as a Black man in the South, combined with his law enforcement experience, compelled him to tackle criminal justice reform where he could feel the impact directly: in his backyard in Arlington.

“He was one to stand up for those who couldn’t stand for themselves,” Bell-Carter told ARLnow in an email. “He frowned upon injustice and wanted to be a leader in changing how the country and the world treated people. Always one to look after those less fortunate.”

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Arlington County Courthouse (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Arlington County is shifting its restorative justice efforts to local nonprofits.

During the County Board meetings held this weekend and last night, members voted to shift nearly $200,000 to nonprofits that are set to continue Arlington’s restorative justice push.

This includes $91,029 in unspent grant money that will go back to the charitable foundations that provided it. Then, the money will be “re-awarded” to the county’s nonprofit partner, Restorative Arlington.

Additionally, $100,000 is being provided by the county as one-time funding to another locally-based nonprofit, the Center for Youth and Family Advocacy. In April 2022, a Notice of Funding Availability was distributed in the community asking relevant nonprofits “to describe innovative programming to work within Arlington County on the goal of enhancing restorative justice, racial equity, and diversion efforts.”

A review panel selected the Center for Youth and Family Advocacy due to its “multi-pronged approach.”

It was more than a year ago when the county first announced its intention to transition Arlington’s restorative justice efforts “from a government-based initiative to a community-based initiative.”

In April 2021, the County Board asked the County Manager in its Fiscal Year 2022 budget guidance to start moving its restorative justice efforts — then also called “Restorative Arlington” — to an initiative run by local nonprofits.

“This transition will also allow for a more efficient approach to leveraging grant and endowment resources,” the guidance read.

Then, in May 2022, the county launched its new “Heart of Safety” program after two years of work and planning. A program of this nature was also what Arlington’s top prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, promised during her 2019 campaign.

A month later, in June 2022, Restorative Arlington officially transitioned “from a public program rooted in the County Manager’s office to a private nonprofit,” per director Kimiko Lighty at Tuesday’s County Board meeting.

Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow late last week that this had always been the intention. The county’s role was to act as an “incubator” and “fiscal agent” with grants for a limited amount of time while the nonprofits worked to get set up and ready to take on the programs.

“As the government, the relationship with restorative justice has always been sort of unusual from the start… the goal has always been ultimately to have a community-based provider,” Cristol said. “Community-based allows this initiative and this effort to truly be centered on the needs of the individuals who were harmed and being able to bring about that restitution and reparation. That’s opposed to institutions, especially criminal justice institutions, that are always going to have interests — important [ones] — but interests other than the needs of the individual who was harmed.”

While local officials might say this was the intent all along, some feel that this is a departure from the original aim.

Brad Haywood, the county’s chief public defender, said he was a bit “surprised” by the move, particularly because they had someone from their office go to all the planning sessions, helping to build the program. Haywood feels like it’s somewhat “a change of plans” from the initial intent.

“We haven’t been told much,” he told ARLnow. “We felt like we were building momentum with Arlington leading the way.”

Nonetheless, Haywood is “optimistic” that Arlington’s restorative justice programs will continue in a manner that will benefit residents — particularly if multiple programs meeting several needs arise out of the shift to local, nonprofit partners.

“Then, that would be value-added,” he said.

Cristol noted at Tuesday’s meeting that this move does not mean the county will no longer be part of local restorative justice efforts.

“The idea of shifting the locus of restorative justice to a community-based organization, which has always been the goal, does not mean that government does not continue to play a role,” said Cristol. “We want our agencies that have been part of traditional justice to be partners in shifting towards a more restorative approach.”

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Morning Notes

New signage on Crystal Drive warning drivers to not block vehicle or bike lanes (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Flyover This MorningUpdated at 9:15 a.m. — “The US Air Force reports 2 flyovers in the NCR consisting of 4 military aircrafts (in both flyovers) at Arlington National Cemetery today, July 14… at 9:55AM and 11:43AM.” [PoPville]

Arlington Again No. 1 ‘Digital County’ — “Arlington County continues to be a national leader in technology, once again being recognized as the No. 1 Digital County by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties. The 2022 award marks the fifth time that Arlington has received the top honor in the 150,000-249,999-population category.” [Arlington County]

County Seeking Funding for Crash-Prone Ramp — “Arlington County officials are slated to apply for $10 million in federal funding to improve an interchange at Arlington Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, while seeking a similar amount from the state government as a backstop in case the federal cash never materializes. The proposal aims to reconfigure two existing interchange ramps and create a straighter, two-directional ramp with signalization.” [Sun Gazette]

Another Group Backs ‘Missing Middle’ — “Count Habitat for Humanity on board with the Arlington government’s Missing Middle housing proposal. The proposed zoning change ‘is not the answer to the affordability crisis, but it is one answer, that the county [government] could and should implement,’ John Smoot, co-president and CEO of the organization’s D.C./Northern Virginia chapter, said in a recent letter to County Board members.” [Sun Gazette]

Jewelry Robbery on the Pike — “Columbia Pike at S. Four Mile Run Drive. At approximately 1:50 a.m. on July 13, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery by force. Upon arrival, officers made contact with the victim who stated he and the witness were in a parking lot when the unknown male suspect approached them. The suspect became confrontational and a verbal dispute occurred during which the suspect implied he had a weapon. The suspect then forcibly removed the victim’s necklace and fled the scene of foot. The witness recovered the chain of the necklace from the suspect as he fled.” [ACPD]

Prosecutor: Long Sentences Not Always the Answer — From Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “I understand the easy answer is to simply say: keep people locked up for as long as possible because if they’re locked up they can’t commit any crime. But, what about if doing so increases the chance they will reoffend once released, thereby decreasing public safety?” [Twitter]

Local Neighborhood Profiled — “Madison Manor is composed primarily of brick ramblers and ranchers, some with recent additions, interspersed with larger contemporary homes. Most of the original homes maintain the red brick facade; a few have been painted white or partially covered with siding.” [Washington Post]

Two Charged in Rare Liquor Scheme — “In the search for hard-to-find bottles of bourbon at Virginia ABC stores, some liquor enthusiasts have been worried about leaks of a more serious kind… The conspiracy theories apparently weren’t wrong. An ABC investigation led to four felony indictments against two men who were arrested last month and charged with computer trespass and embezzling ABC’s inventory list.” [Virginia Mercury]

It’s Thursday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 87 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:56 am and sunset at 8:35 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Swimming pool in May, ready for the new season (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

Restorative Justice Coming to Schools — “Restorative Arlington has partnered with Arlington Public Schools (APS) to support Restorative Justice in Education. Restorative Arlington has allocated over $140,000 to provide direct services to APS, including services for students who have experienced harm as well as restorative justice training for staff and additional resources.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Candidate Addresses Achievement Gap —  “The county’s likely next School Board member has become the latest to try and enunciate ways to address [the academic-achievement gap]. The gap is significant and ‘has gotten worse’ over the pandemic era, candidate Bethany Sutton acknowledged during a May 14 forum sponsored by the Blue Families caucus of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.” [Sun Gazette]

Fatal Crash Near Arlington Border — “Officers responded at 2:16 a.m. to the 3700 block of S. George Mason Drive. Preliminarily, detectives from our Crash Reconstruction Unit determined the driver of a 2016 Volkswagen Jetta was travelling southbound on S. George Mason Drive attempting to turn left into Skyline Plaza. The driver of a 2018 Honda Accord was travelling northbound on S. George Mason Drive and struck the Jetta on the passenger side. Initially, both occupants of the Accord ran from the scene.” [Fairfax County Police]

It’s Friday — Rain and storms throughout much of the day. High of 73 and low of 67. Sunrise at 5:49 am and sunset at 8:26 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Arlington County Courthouse (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

A new restorative justice program launched last week in Arlington, aimed at diverting those under the age of 26 from the criminal justice system.

The “Heart of Safety” program, part of the county’s Restorative Arlington initiative, held its first training session early last week. The program’s goal is to find alternatives to criminal prosecution for certain misdemeanor and felony crimes committed by young adults.

Through a conferencing process managed by trained professionals and facilitators, it will allow both the accused and the victim or victims a choice in how to best deal with the crime committed. The main factor for eligibility is the participants’ commitment to the process, as opposed to determining eligibility based solely on the crime involved.

In practice, however, leaders tell ARLnow that initially “Heart of Safety” will likely focus on certain types of crime to start.

“The determining factor for eligibility is participant commitment to the process,” Kimiko Lighty, Restorative Arlington executive director, wrote to ARLnow in an email. “This program is voluntary at every stage so the engagement of the parties most directly affected by the harm, the person harmed and the person responsible for harm, is the determining factor NOT the type of harm.”

“Initially we will likely focus on assault and battery and grand larceny, as the data mapping with Impact Justice determined that those are the charges with the largest racial and [ethnic] disparities,” she continued. “We believe families are eager for an alternative to traditional criminal prosecution that can maintain public safety by holding young people accountable without saddling their future with a criminal record,.”

The Memorandum of Understanding for “Heart of Safety” was first signed in February by Arlington’s top prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who campaigned in 2019 on creating a restorative justice program of this nature. The program is being aided by $340,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Justice Department.

In attendance at the training session along with Restorative Arlington leaders were personnel from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney and members of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Services Unit.

The first session “offered information, discussion, and trust building between the two county offices and Restorative Arlington,” according to the press release.

Lighty said the session also dealt with “how restorative justice allows survivors to participate in ways traditional systems do not, how it reduces recidivism in ways that traditional systems do not, and how it provides young people the tools to handle conflict in ways that traditional systems do not.”

The second training session will be held this summer, but an exact date has yet to be finalized.

Additionally, an agreement that would refer Arlington Public Schools students directly to the program is still be worked on. It’s currently in the draft stage and it should be finalized soon, says Lighty.

It has taken more than two years for the promised program to get up and running. Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow that a lot of studying, planning, and designing were needed prior to launching something that’s never been done in the county. That includes working with prior victims of crime and those who were formerly incarcerated, to help establish “Heart of Safety” policies and procedures.

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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.

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Arlington County has created a new youth program aimed at diverting young people who commit crimes from the criminal justice system.

The program, called “Heart of Safety,” is the first county program established to find alternatives to prosecution in certain misdemeanor and felony cases committed by juveniles and young adults, according to a press release from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the top prosecutor for Arlington and the City of Falls Church, announced today (Tuesday) that she signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Services Unit and a county initiative called Restorative Arlington to found Heart of Safety.

Restorative Arlington began in 2020 to introduce to the public schools system, legal system and community new ways of holding people accountable for their crimes without putting them through the court process.

The founders of Heart of Safety say it will give victims a say in what they need to feel that justice has been served, while holding those who committed the crime accountable and reducing future crimes in the long run.

“Heart of Safety is about survivors’ rights, youth rehabilitation, and crime prevention; for survivors, it’s the peace of mind of taking charge of their recovery; for young people, it’s a second chance to make right what they did wrong; and for the community, it’s an investment in crime prevention,” said Dehghani-Tafti, who campaigned on a justice reform platform in 2019.

People who commit crimes and victims can volunteer to resolve their case through a conferencing process. Either the victim or the person who committed the crime must be 26 or younger when the incident took place to participate.

Cases have to be identified and deemed appropriate for the conferencing process, which is overseen by a trained facilitator. This person talks with both parties to listen to their experiences, understand what they need and determine if they should meet. If so, the facilitator brings the participants together to draft a restoration plan and follows up with them later to ensure they completed the plan and are satisfied with the outcome.

If this process doesn’t resolve the case, the Commonwealth’s Attorney can open a prosecution case.

“Heart of Safety embodies the priorities and interests of our community and is in full alignment with best practices in restorative justice diversion,” Restorative Arlington Executive Director Kimiko Lighty said. “We are grateful to be able to offer this long-awaited option for people who have been harmed in our community.”

Restorative Arlington worked with volunteers — victims of crimes, formerly incarcerated persons, teens and young adults — over the course of two years to establish Heart of Safety, according to the county.

Leaders of Restorative Arlington, meanwhile, are working with Arlington Public Schools to draft an agreement that would allow schools to refer students directly to Heart of Safety. The county says this will allow schools to hold students accountable for wrongdoing while keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

“Restorative Arlington’s Heart of Safety program will provide a great new option for diverting some youth from the traditional court process,” said Earl Conklin, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Services Unit Director. “It is an alternative model that has proven successful for both the youth and those who have been harmed.”

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Morning Notes

Soccer practice at Long Bridge Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

New Organ Debuts Tomorrow — “The new organ [at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Virginia Square] cost $1.2 million… Opus 28 arrived in Arlington on Oct. 3, 2021. For three weeks, Pasi put together the 500,000 parts that constitute it. He spent the next two months ‘voicing’ the organ: doing the painstaking adjustments necessary to make everything sound just right.” [Washington Post]

Reminder: Pizza Boxes Can Be Composted — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “There’s No ‘I’ in Food Scraps: Arlington viewers of ‘The Big Game’ can give 110% and go all in in the green curbside cart: pizza crusts and boxes, wing bones and greasy napkins. You won’t be denied.” [Twitter]

County Helping With Museum Renovations — “As efforts begin to renovate its museum, the Arlington Historical Society is working to embrace close collaboration where possible with the Arlington County government. Whether that will turn into a financial partnership remains to be seen, but county staff will be providing their knowledge to help the renovation move ahead.” [Sun Gazette]

Public Defender Pay Bill Fails — “A measure to equalize pay between staff of Virginia prosecutors and those working in public-defender’s offices died in a House of Delegates subcommittee. The measure, patroned by Del. Alfsono Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax), would have required localities that supplement the compensation of staff in its office of commonwealth’s attorney beyond state minimums to do the same for staff of a public defender’s office, if a locality has one.” [Sun Gazette]

Nearby: Scammers Impersonating Police — “Officers have received reports from community members who stated that callers contact them claiming to be members of a police department or sheriff’s department. The law enforcement impersonator may… tell the community member they missed a court appearance or jury duty [and] state they need to send money or a warrant will be issued for their arrest or they may turn themselves in to jail.” [City of Falls Church]

Snow Possible This Weekend — “Light to moderate snow could fall in the D.C. area on Super Bowl Sunday. But it’s still not clear whether it will snow hard enough or be cold enough for it to amount to much and have serious effects on the region.” [Capital Weather Gang]

It’s Thursday — Sunny, with a high near 55 today, and wind gusts as high as 21 mph. Sunrise at 7:04 a.m. and sunset at 5:40 p.m. Sunny again tomorrow, with a high near 57 and wind gusts as high as 22 mph. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington’s top prosecutor just got a boost from the U.S. Department of Justice to continue pursuing criminal justice reforms.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded $340,000 to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, led by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. This is the maximum grant allowed through the bureau’s Innovative Prosecution Solutions program, according to a press release.

The $340,000 will fund two new positions, including one for someone trained in social work, the release said. It will support work to train facilitators in restorative practices — intended to reduce the length of incarcerations, at least in some cases, while also providing justice to the victim — and identify which D.C.-area restorative services and diversion programs produce the best public safety outcomes.

“It’s a game changer because it allows us to develop partnerships with diversion programs across the Metro area, for the first time, both in service of developing opportunities and reducing recidivism, incarceration, and racial disparities,” Dehghani-Tafti said.

The office will also hire a data expert and purchase software needed to analyze data about prosecutions, including how cases are resolved. Dehghani-Tafti campaigned on using data and evidence to drive criminal justice reform.

“It also gives us the capacity for evidence-based prosecution and evidence-based diversion decisions,” she said.

This grant will fund these positions and activities through June 2023, according to the release.

“This grant acknowledges and supports the work of local prosecutors trying to transform the criminal legal system,” said Dehghani-Tafti, who successfully ran on a criminal justice reform platform in 2019, in a statement.

Additional statements from the press release are below.

“I applaud the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s efforts and office for applying and obtaining funding under the DOJ’s FY 2021 Smart Prosecution–Innovative Prosecution Solutions Program,” stated Julius D. “J.D.” Spain, Sr., President Arlington Branch NAACP. “In efforts to focus on mediation and agreement rather than punishment, our community needs alternatives to traditional discipline. This additional funding will assist in developing effective strategies, enhancing our Restorative Arlington Program, and combating and prosecuting violent crime in Arlington.”

“Black Parents of Arlington commends the Commonwealth’s Attorney and her office for taking this important step to develop effective, economical, and innovative responses to crime within our jurisdiction,” said Whytni Kernodle, Co-Founder and President, Black Parents of Arlington. “These funds should help reduce rather than exacerbate racial disparities that are particularly harmful to young Black males, while helping to reduce crime and increase public safety for everyone in our community.”

“This funding will allow us to leverage the innovative and data driven work that Parisa’s office has been focused on since day one to increase efficiency, security and safety for our community,” said Kimiko Lighty, Coordinator, Restorative Arlington. “This grant award is an endorsement of the collaborative spirit that system partners here in Arlington have prioritized and we will all benefit from the investment in updated data systems and coordinative personnel.”

This year has also seen Dehghani-Tafti launch a wrongful convictions unit and partner with a national criminal justice organization to reduce race-based differences in prosecution by 20%.

At the same time, her tenure has seen some controversies. She has been the target of a recall effort, which cites increases in certain crimes such as carjackings — though the same data also shows a decrease in violent sex offenses and a relatively low homicide rate.

Additionally, there have been conflicts with judges over plea deals and dropping charges without an explanation for the record.

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