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A police officer plays a game of pickup basketball with local kids in 2018 (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)

(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) A new youth program could divert youth who commit misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies from the juvenile legal system.

Arlington police will be able to refer offending juveniles to local programs aimed at holding youth accountable outside of the court system, according to a press release from the Center for Youth and Family Advocacy (CYFA).

“Community-based diversion is critical to community policing because it recognizes young people’s capacity for change,” the organization said in a statement. “Community-based diversion also reduces the possibility of collateral consequences arising from legal system involvement, which can have lasting, and often unexpected, effects on a youth throughout their life.”

CYFA works Arlington County’s juvenile court services unit to provide a variety of youth-led programs, through which kids who acknowledge wrongdoing can make amends and rejoin their communities.

It offers programs such as “Youth Peer Court,” in which trained teens occupy the roles of prosecutor and defense attorney, judge and jury and help develop a plan the juvenile follows to repair the harm he or she committed.

Now, police will be able to refer kids to that program and another, in which kids learn how to facilitate conversations about issues impacting teens by those harmed and those doing the harm.

The nonprofit says its new partnership with ACPD, in the works since 2019, is a “radical change” in how Arlington County addresses delinquent behavior in kids and prevents them from being involved in the formal juvenile legal system.

Until recently, for instance, police officers were in Arlington Public Schools. The intent was to maintain school safety and provide mentorship, though there were community concerns that the school presence resulted in racial disparities in juvenile arrests.

For the police department, the CYFA partnership is a new way to stay involved in the lives of children without involving the full weight of the courts.

“ACPD recognizes that using restorative justice programs for particular incidents involving youth provides an opportunity to divert youth from the criminal justice system while still holding them accountable for their actions and providing persons who have been harmed an opportunity to be actively involved in the resolution of their case,” department spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow.

The two organizations will work together to educate locals about how to also utilize these two programs when police are not involved, CYFA says.

The nonprofit says the partnership advances the aims of the county’s Police Practices Group, which suggested more than 100 ways to reform policing in Arlington.

“It creates space to reframe police response from adversarial to solution-focused and provides an opportunity to shift cultural and societal reliance on police resources,” CYFA said.

In a Facebook post, the organization provided a “shoutout” to several officers within ACPD for their work to stand up the program, as well as to Chief Andy Penn and Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent “for their tremendous work on strategic planning.”

The organization additionally thanked County Manager Mark Schwartz and the Arlington County Board for supporting its efforts.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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NBC 4 story on Adam Theo (via NBC 4)

The local civic figure who was beaten after trying to intervene in a domestic assault says he doesn’t want jail time for his attacker.

Adam Theo suffered serious injuries after an incident Sunday evening in Clarendon. According to police, Theo saw a man and woman fighting, tried to intervene, and was then punched repeatedly in the face by the man.

More from an ACPD crime report:

MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 2023-05280186, 2800 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 6:39 p.m. on May 28, police were dispatched to the report of an assault with injury. Upon arrival, it was determined the male victim was walking in the area when he observed the male suspect and female subject involved in a dispute, during which the male suspect allegedly assaulted the female subject. The victim attempted to intervene, during which the suspect struck him multiple times before the victim was able to move away from the suspect. The suspect then reapproached the victim, pushed him to the ground and assaulted him before being separated by the female subject and a witness. The male suspect and female subject then fled the scene and were not located by responding officers. The victim sustained serious, non-life threatening injuries and was transported to an area hospital for medical treatment.

Theo, a Transportation Commission member and former Arlington County Board candidate, is a supporter of reform-minded Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Taft and her campaign for re-election.

He told NBC 4, which reported on the attack yesterday, that he does not want jail time for his attacker, who remains at large.

“I hope that he gets help and treatment and that he is fixed from his problems,” Theo said. “Anything that can get him into anger management program, that can get him some probation, that he’s watched and he has to show that he’s a better person over time.”

A GoFundMe campaign established to help Theo pay the bills while he recovers and remains out of work has already surpassed $10,000.

“Theo would never ask for help on his own behalf, which is one reason we are,” wrote the organizer, fellow local housing advocate Luca Gattoni-Celli. “Theo is concerned his condition will affect his ability to work in the short to medium term. He was already dealing with a lot of challenges, and richly deserves our help. Please be generous, as he has always been generous to his community. Theo is an Air Force veteran and civic leader in Arlington.”

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Arlington County Courthouse (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) A year ago, Arlington County launched a diversion program for youth and young adults who commit certain misdemeanor and felony crimes.

Heart of Safety is a voluntary program facilitated by Restorative Arlington, a nonprofit that facilitates meetings between victims who choose this approach and the people who committed crimes against them.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney or the local court services unit — which provides services to juvenile court-involved youth and their families — refers victims of crimes who want to stay out of court proceedings to the program.

There, victims and the people who harmed them meet with facilitators and each other to discuss what happened and why, the results of that crime and how the perpetrator can make amends — typically by adhering to a restoration plan to which both parties agree. This approach borrows from longstanding indigenous traditions that have been implemented and studied in some U.S. communities.

The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney has referred eight cases to the program as of November. That figure comes from a Freedom of Information Act request filed last fall by the campaign to elect Josh Katcher, challenger to Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in the Democratic primary on June 20. His campaign released its findings on Friday.

Program Executive Director Kimiko Lighty says that the number of cases that have gone through the program is higher. It does not include cases referred from court services unit, those completed in 2022, ongoing cases, or those on who are on a six-month waitlist that she would take if the program had more capacity.

“Heart of Safety is working at capacity right now and has a waitlist,” Lighty says. “There are people who are saying, ‘We would rather wait to have a restorative option than go to court.'”

Participants include people from middle school through 26 years old who committed a fairly broad range of crimes, though Lighty did not elaborate on what kind, citing privacy.

“What they have in common, every single one, is that the person harmed asked for a restorative process,” Lighty said.

Dehghani-Tafti, elected in 2019 on a platform of prosecutorial reform, has said on the campaign trail that Heart of Safety is an avenue for victims to heal and for people who committed crimes to reckon with their actions, demonstrate remorse and commit to making amends.

She tells ARLnow the cases that went through the program “have gone really well” and been consistent with a memorandum of understanding and referral policies governing the program, both of which were provided to ARLnow.

Katcher and his team take issue with how the program has been promoted and how much credit Dehghani-Tafti can take for it, maintaining that people should be skeptical about why Dehghani-Tafti is not more forthright about program outcomes.

His team requested the number and types of cases that have gone through Heart of Safety, the number referred back to the courts, the memorandum of understanding and referral criteria governing the program, and a definition of recidivism.

In response, his campaign says it received the number of cases, eight, and the same documents Dehghani-Tafti’s campaign provided to ARLnow.

“Parisa Dehghani-Tafti wants the community to think of her as a reformer. However, when pressed for information to prove that she’s living up to our community’s expectations for what that means, her office refuses to answer basic questions around the efficacy of her highly-touted commitment to restorative justice,” the campaign manager for Katcher, Ben Jones, said in a statement.

“Her refusal to answer simple questions about a program that she has touted as being one of her signature promises is another sign that she’s not the right person to be trusted with ensuring our community’s safety and security,” he continued.

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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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