Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Trash Collection CancelledUpdated at 8:55 a.m. — Trash and recycling collection is cancelled today, according to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. Christmas tree and brush collection will be completed as normal, however. [Twitter]

Rep. Beyer Calls for Peace — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted the following after Iran’s airstrike on U.S. military bases in Iraq — a response to the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general: “De-escalate. Exercise diplomacy. Talk. Listen. Give peace a chance.” [Twitter]

Civ Fed Worries About Upzoning — “‘None of us are interested in destroying all our single-family neighborhoods,’ new County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said during the board’s Jan. 2 meeting with the Arlington County Civic Federation… At the forum, Garvey promised that the Civic Federation would play an integral role in any civic-engagement process that transpires in coming months. She reiterated the board’s position that zoning changes are not a done deal.” [InsideNova]

Board Defends Amazon’s Housing Contribution — “Arlington County Board members are defending their decision to trade additional office-building density for affordable-housing funding, but the decision provoked tension with some delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation. Meeting with board members on Jan. 2, several federation members asked why the county government had decided to allocate all the $20 million contribution from Amazon to affordable-housing efforts.” [InsideNova]

Marijuana Possession Cases Dismissed — In court Tuesday, Arlington’s new top prosecutor successfully sought for judges to dismiss charges against those charged with simple marijuana possession. [Twitter]

Police Investigate Pike Robbery — A portion of westbound Columbia Pike was shut down near S. Glebe Road early Tuesday morning while police investigated a robbery. An ACPD spokeswoman told ARLnow that a victim was robbed and suffered minor injuries; no weapon was involved in the robbery. [Twitter]

New Coworking Space Coming to Crystal City — “Hana is coming to Greater Washington, and it’s going to be neighbors with HQ2. CBRE Group has picked a Crystal City office building to serve as the first East Coast location of its flexible space concept, named after the Hawaiian word for work.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Pawn Shop Helps Return Lost Ring — “Mary Nosrati, a certified gemologist who works at a pawnshop in Arlington, Va., likes to say that every diamond has a story. This is the story of Marsha Wilkins’s diamond, of how it was lost and how it was found.” [Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Metro Tests New Tech in Pentagon City — The Transportation Security Administration and Metro rolled out new security technology at the Pentagon City Metro station on Tuesday. The system “can detect an individual concealing an improvised explosive device, such as a suicide vest or another weapon.” [Fox 5, Twitter]

HQ2 Leads to Development Boom — “Arlington officials, developers, market researchers — everyone, really — predicted that Amazon.com Inc.’s arrival in the county would generate a development boom in the company’s neighborhood. So far, they’ve been right.” [Washington Business Journal]

Tafti Sworn in as Prosecutor — Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was sworn in Monday as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church. On Tuesday she warned a crowd at a progressive think tank there has been a “growing narrative in pretty extreme circles that trying to reimagine the criminal-legal system is somehow going to make us less safe…somehow disrespects victims.” [Twitter, Blue Virginia]

Airport Authority Voting on $15 Wage — After years of protests, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is set to vote today on a new policy that would increase the hourly wages of contracted workers — baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, lobby agents, skycaps, cabin cleaners, airport concessions and airline catering workers — from $12.75 to $15 by 2023. [Press Release]

Beyer Pushing for Quieter Airplanes — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who has long advocated against excessive noise from aircraft landing at and taking off from Reagan National Airport, is calling on NASA to study ways to make commercial jetliners quieter and cleaner in a new bill. [Press Release]

Northam Proposes Nixing Vehicle Inspections — “Gov. Ralph Northam wants to end state-mandated vehicle safety inspections and cut vehicle registration fees in half, proposals his administration says would eventually save Virginians more than $280 million per year. But motorists would have to pay a few dollars more each time they fill up on gas under a proposal to increase the state’s motor vehicle fuels tax from about 22 cents per gallon to 34 cents per gallon over three years.” [Virginia Mercury]

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Morning Notes

Parents Protest APS Proposal — “School officials tasked with the perpetual jigsaw puzzle of reassigning school zones have stirred new tensions… If you drive McKinley Rd., you can’t miss the printed signs ‘SAVE MCKINLEY: Our Neighborhood School Since 1951.’ The Madison Manor Civic Association has revved up with nearby PTAs and community groups to assemble contrary arguments.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Tafti Pushes Back on AG Comments — From Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “We are neither righteous warriors nor avenging angels. We are public servants. So a little humility in how we do our job and how we accept public critique of our work would go a long way toward building a system that is both safe and just.” [Twitter]

Free Holiday Grief Support Service — “For those who’ve suffered loss-whether recently, or even years prior-the holiday stress can make the season more difficult. To help those grieving in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia during the holidays, Capital Caring Health, a local non-profit, offers a wide range of free counseling and support services.” [Press Release, Arlington Public Library]

Special Burial at Arlington National — “Private Edwin Francis Benson was killed in action at Tarawa during World War II. In 2017, his remains were located. Earlier this year, his remains were identified and a couple weeks ago he was laid to rest in Section 60. We honor his service.” [Twitter]

APS Students Learn About the Census — “The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off its Statistics in Schools program, offering Arlington teachers and others a wide array of resources that teach students not only about data but also about the importance of being counted in the upcoming 2020 Census. Arlington Public Schools shared the free program with its teachers, who can integrate it into their lesson plans.” [Arlington County]

Road Closures for Race in Pentagon City — “The Jingle Bell Run/Walk 5K for Arthritis will take place on Saturday, December 7. Police will conduct road closures in the area of South Joyce Street and Army Navy Drive to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

New Additions to Story Map — A number of properties have been added to the Arlington Historical Society’s Story Map, per organizer Charlie Clark, including: 817 N. Irving St. (Lyon Park), built circa 1904; Hendry House, 2411 N 24th St. (Woodmont), built circa 1900; 3405 N. Glebe Rd. (Country Club Hills), built circa 1907. [Arlington Historical Society]

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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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Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has announced her first planned appointment.

The incoming top prosecutor says she will promote current Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cari Steele to Chief Deputy, lauding both her prosecutorial chops and participation in groups like the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Review Committee and the Sexual Assault Response Team.

Tafti, who will take office on Jan. 1, issued a press release about the move — perhaps signaling a departure from outgoing Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, whose office issued few such communiques, aside from coordinating with police on press releases about the resolution of major cases.

More from the press release:

As her first planned appointment, Commonwealth’s Attorney elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti will promote to Chief Deputy Cari Steele, who currently serves as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, effective January 1, 2020. Ms. Steele is a 17-year veteran of the office, having served since 2002. Throughout her career she has successfully handled numerous jury trials and bench trials before the courts of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, including homicide, sexual assault, and robbery.

Ms. Dehghani-Tafti noted that “Ms Steele is uniformly well respected by the bench, bar, law enforcement, and the community at large, and will be invaluable in maintaining the institutional memory of the office. But just as importantly, her deep experience as a member of the local Mental Health and Criminal Justice Review Committee, as coordinator for the Sexual Assault Response Team, and as a liaison to the Arlington County Drug Treatment Court makes her a wonderful fit to implement our restorative justice and diversion policies.”

For her part, Ms. Steele stated “It has been a privilege to serve the citizens of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church for the last 17 years and I am excited to continue that service in this new role under the vision and leadership of our Commonwealth’s Attorney-Elect.”

Ms. Steele is currently the liaison to the City of Falls Church Police Department, the Child Advocacy Center, and the Special Victims’ Unit of the Arlington County Police Department. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington County Bar Association. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Methodist College and received her J.D. from the University of Richmond in 2000. Ms. Steele is married to William Wetzonis and they have three children.

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Last night, reform candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was elected the next top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church, leaving questions about how her campaign promises could affect the area’s political and legal landscape.

Throughout her unusually contentious — and expensive — campaign, Tafti promised to stop prosecuting some marijuana possession cases, eliminate some cash bail requirements, and make it easier for defense attorneys to access case files, among other reforms.

Tafti declined to discuss details about her plans for the prosecutor’s office itself, but the other agencies most affected by her reforms say her tenure could have a big impact on their work.

Public defenders may have more time with their clients 

Chief Public Defender Bradley Haywood has been a vocal critic of outgoing Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and donated to Tafti’s campaign. He told ARLnow her win will “absolutely” change the work his office can do, adding that her election was an “amazing opportunity” for judges, lawyers, and prosecutors to work together on criminal justice reform.

One reform Haywood said will majorly impact public defenders is Tafti’s promise to do away with the the requirement that defense attorneys hand copy all the prosecutor’s files about their criminal cases — a process several attorneys say is “horribly inefficient” and makes preparing large cases impossible.

“We estimated that there were about 1,000-1,500 hours we spent in that stupid room typing manually,” Haywood said of his office’s work in the past year. “It’s going to go down from 1,000 hours to zero probably in January. That will give us time to actually learn more about our clients.”

Tafti told ARLnow last night after the polls closed and her campaign declared victory that she was “absolutely” still committed to digitizing the document policy.

The Arlington County Bar Association, which includes private defense attorneys, declined to comment when asked how the new prosecutor’s policy priorities could affect members’ work.

The Sheriff’s Office may need a budget bump

Another one of the reforms Tafti focused on during her campaign was ending the practice of “cash bail,” which she said penalizes lower-income people who might instead remain jail as they await trial.

Outgoing prosecutor Theo Stamos announced last November she would stop seeking bail for people accused of low-level misdemeanors after seven state lawmakers urged her to fix the system. However, public defenders criticized the plan for still excluding too many defendants, calling it a “cynical PR move” to help her bid for re-election.

Sheriff Beth Arthur, who won her re-election last night, told ARLnow she didn’t necessarily oppose more changes to the bail system. But she did express concern about how to manage resources if judges choose to release defendants before trial with conditions — like weekly drug testing — in lieu of bail.

“I do have concerns from a staffing perspective and from an operational perspective on how how this impacts the poor people who are managing the program and who have a caseload of 60-65 people,” she said of her office’s pre-trial program that supervises such defendants. “That’s a lot.”

However, Arthur said she’s hopeful that the county will grant her office additional resources to staff pre-trial programs should they be affected by Tafti’s reforms — or the jail diversion program for people with mental illnesses.

In June, the Arlington County Board approved a $45.3 million total budget for the Sheriff’s Office in fiscal year 2020.

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(Updated at 10:20 p.m.) There were no surprises in Tuesday’s general election in Arlington, as Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was elected Arlington’s new prosecutor and all Democratic incumbents won new terms.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney race saw an elevated level of write-in votes — 10% of the overall vote — but the result was never in doubt as Tafti received 90% of the vote. She will take office as the top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church starting in January.

Tafti ran a progressive campaign centered on criminal justice reform during a contentious and expensive primary. She ran unopposed in the general election after beating incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos in a surprising upset in the primary, with 52% of the vote to Stamos’ 48%.

“It was really surreal,” Tafti told ARLnow of her win, after the final precinct results came in.

The incoming prosecutor added that she was “lucky” she had time between the June primary and the November election to start work on her transition. Tafti she’s looking forward to rolling out reforms come January — which one expert has said is the most aggressive policy transition for the office in living memory.

“I’m really excited to get a restorative justice program started,” she told ARLnow.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Arlington County Board incumbents Katie Cristol (D) and Christian Dorsey (D) defeated independent candidates Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell with 40% and 38% of the vote, respectively. Clement’s 13% and O’Dell’s 7% compares to the 10% Clement and 19% Republican Mike McMenamin received in 2015, when Cristol and Dorsey were first elected.

In contested General Assembly races in Arlington, state Sen. Janet Howell, who ran unopposed in the primary, won out over Republican candidate Arthur Purves, 73% to 27%. Del. Alfonso Lopez defeated independent challenger Terry Modglin, 83% to 16%.

Other Democratic candidates won bids for re-election tonight after running uncontested races:

  • Del. Patrick Hope
  • Del. Mark Levine
  • Del. Rip Sullivan
  • State Sen. Barbara Favola
  • Sheriff Beth Arthur
  • Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy
  • Treasurer Carla de la Pava
  • School Board member Reid Goldstein

Acknowledging that most of its candidates were not facing strong challengers, the Arlington Democratic party has instead focused on supporting other Virginia progressives they hoped could flip the GOP-controlled state House and Senate. As of 10 p.m., the Associated Press projected that Democrats would, in fact, win control of both.

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The following op-ed was written by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Democratic nominee for the top prosecutor job in Arlington and Falls Church. Voters will head to the polls this coming Tuesday, Nov. 5.

If you had told me two years ago that I would be writing as the Democratic nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, I would not have believed you. People with my personal and professional backgrounds don’t often run for, much less win, political office.

I came to the United States as an immigrant. Like many immigrants our family struggled with poverty, with a new culture, and unfortunately, with discrimination. But my parents had faith in the opportunities America offered and they believed, above all, in the power of education. Thanks to their sacrifice and with the help of federal grants, I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a BA in Philosophy and Comparative Literature and later earned a JD from New York University School of Law.

I was inspired to go to law school because a dear friend was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit. He spent three years in San Quentin before being exonerated.  Since then, for the last nineteen years, I’ve worked to reform the criminal legal system.

I’ve worked as a public defender with the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service, litigating cases of constitutional magnitude; as the legal director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, exonerating innocent individuals in DC, Virginia, and Maryland; and as a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center and George Washington University School of Law, training the next generation of criminal law attorneys.

My platform is rooted in a simple principle: Safety and justice are not opposite values – we can’t have one without the other.  I believe:

  • Prosecutors should focus on serious crimes that threaten public safety and community well-being, including sexual assault, elderly abuse, and wage theft;
  • Prosecutors should support programs that help victims recover from the trauma of crime and restorative justice programs that help reduce crime;
  • The default approach for children who make mistakes should be diversion and education;
  • People should not be in jail because they are too poor to afford bail;
  • Whenever possible, people with disabilities, mental illness, or those suffering from addiction should be offered treatment rather than incarceration;
  • It is wrong to continue to saddle people with a criminal record for simple marijuana possession when it has life-long consequences on employment, education, and housing;
  • No criminal legal system can achieve justice if it tolerates racial and class disparities;
  • People who have served their time should be reintegrated into society as returning citizens with voting rights;
  • The government should not take your property without a conviction; and
  • The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

These issues are grounded in sound science and supported by a wide cross-section of our community.

Since the June 11 primary, I’ve been meeting with and listening to our delegates, senators, members of the County Board and the School Board, the police, faith groups, local leaders and activists because I believe listening to their expertise and taking heed of their priorities is key to maintaining safety and pursuing justice.

I started this campaign as far back as February 2018 when it was just me, meeting one on one with members of the community in the early morning hours before work, during lunch breaks – eating on the run, weekends, and late in the evening after putting my kids to bed. I had no name recognition, no staff, and no money but the encouragement I received from so many of you is something I will never be able to repay.

Little by little, I gained the support of advocacy groups, local grassroots groups, and people who normally don’t have a voice in the system. Little by little, we became a movement right here in Arlington and Falls Church before attracting national attention. So, it is deeply encouraging that criminal justice reform is now a central part of every single Democrat running for president’s platform. But, what’s even more encouraging is that our community took the lead on this issue by voting for reform during the Democratic primary this past June and by supporting our local representatives who have long championed reform in Richmond.

I am Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. I humbly ask for your vote on Tuesday, November 5 for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church so that we can continue the movement for reform and build a criminal justice system that keeps us safe, treats everyone fairly, and reflects our values.

Editor’s note: “Why Should You Vote for Me” essays by candidates in competitive races in Arlington will run on Monday.

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Morning Notes

ACPD Provides Crystal City Shooting Update — “The Arlington County Police Department continues to investigate a non-fatal officer-involved shooting which occurred on August 28, 2019. The police department is committed to providing professional law enforcement services to the Arlington community while remaining transparent with the public regarding our operations. As a matter of transparency, the officer involved in the August shooting is Officer J. Clark.” [Arlington County]

Redevelopment Plan Includes Unique Towers — “The most interesting design among all of JBG’s proposals is for the two residential towers at 2525 Crystal, currently the home of the Crystal City Workout Park and a handful of sand volleyball courts.
Plans call for two interconnected towers with a stepped design, forming a V shape when viewed in profile.” [Washington Business Journal]

Favola Endorses Dehghani-Tafti — State Sen. Barbara Favola writes in an endorsement of Democratic Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney nominee Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “Parisa will work day and night to bring balance to a justice system that has relied excessively on jail time when diversion programs and common-sense drug laws would better serve us. I look forward to working with Parisa as I continue to fight for expunging the records of juveniles and decriminalizing marijuana.” [Twitter]

Comcast Outage ReportedUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — Several tipsters are reporting a large Comcast cable outage in Arlington. A portion of the Comcast outage map reviewed by ARLnow shows at least 500 customers were without cable service as of 9 a.m.

Nearby: Squirrel Prompts Call to Police — “Scanner: Alexandria PD just dispatched a call regarding an ‘aggressive squirrel.'” [Twitter]

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Arlington County is considering a new program to divert people with mental illnesses into treatment instead of jail.

The proposed program would waive incarceration for people with mental illnesses who are convicted of non-violent misdemeanors if they agree to an intensive treatment program supervised by a judge. All the officials who spoke to ARLnow about the program supported it, but some weren’t aware the county was working on the program and said they had little opportunity to add input.

The Arlington County’s Department of Human Services is spearheading the program. A spokesman told ARLnow on June 27 that in response to “recent requests” it would host a public meeting on the so-called Behavioral Health Docket on Wednesday, July 17 at 3 p.m. The location of the meeting has yet to be determined.

“The aim is to divert eligible defendants with diagnosed mental health disorders into judicially supervised, community-based treatment, designed and implemented by a team of court staff and mental health professionals,” said DHS Assistant Director Kurt Larrick.

This new docket aims to accept defendants 18 or older who reside in Arlington and who are diagnosed with a serious mental illness, Larrick said. Additionally, only defendants who have been charged with misdemeanors, not felonies, would be eligible for the diversion program. Defendants would need to agree to work with a team of mental health professionals and program staff to enroll in the docket and agree to follow a treatment plan with some supervision.

“These programs are distinguished by several unique elements: a problem-solving focus; a team approach to decision-making; integration of social services; judicial supervision of the treatment process; direct interaction between defendants and the judge; community outreach; and a proactive role for the judge,” Larrick said.

Where Mental Illness and the Law Collide

Officials and advocates say they hope that the docket will help break the cycle of recidivism that some people with mental illnesses fall into.

“Arlington has a significant number of people with mental illnesses that intersect with the criminal justice system,” Deputy Public Defender Amy K. Stitzel told ARLnow. “Evidence-based mental health dockets not only treat instead of criminalizing behavior that is a result of mental illness, they increase treatment engagement, improve quality of life, reduce recidivism and save money.”

“We’re talking about people who are arrested for vagrancy and loitering and trespassing,” said Naomi Verdugo, who has been an activist for people in Arlington with mental illness for several years. “These are largely misdemeanors and stupid things, and it’s because they aren’t well. We would be better off putting services around them than paying to incarcerate people who are just going to reoffend.”

“It is clear that the local and regional jails in Virginia have a substantial number of persons with mental illness in their care, and that this care is costly to the localities and to the Commonwealth,” says a 2017 study of similar programs statewide.

The most recent data from Virginia jail surveys indicate that statewide 1 in 10 of the inmates counted was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, such as PTSD or schizophrenia, and about 20% of all inmates had some kind of mental illness.

In Arlington, data from 2016, 2017, and 2018 indicates the most common diagnoses for inmates are bipolar disorder/major depressive and schizophrenia.

Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood said his office has been part of a team discussing mental health improvements for 15 years with the county’s Mental Health Criminal Justice Review Committee, and for the past five years with a subcommittee dedicated to creating a docket, called the Behavioral Health Docket Committee. Haywood strongly supports the idea of a Behavioral Health Docket but noted his office wasn’t notified the county had advanced plans for the docket until recently.

“This is not a transparent approach”

While he applauded DHS for moving the program forward, Haywood said he would have liked more input on the design when organizers decided to require defendants plead guilty before participating in the program.

“From our perspective, until early spring of 2019, the process for drafting and submitting an application for the Mental Health Docket seemed to be moving very slowly,” he said. “I don’t know what changed that took the process to where it is now, to having tight deadlines and short comment periods.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who recently won the Democratic primary against incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos, said she heard about the docket for the first time two weeks ago. During her campaign, Tafti advocated for a mental health court as part of larger criminal justice reforms, but said she wasn’t given a chance to comment on the Behavioral Health Docket.

She told ARLnow that she has concerns the new program “criminalizes mental illness” by requiring a plea to participate.

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The following op-ed was written by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the Democratic nominee for Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney. As the presumed victor in the unchallenged November election, which followed a heated primary campaign, Dehghani-Tafti will be the area’s chief prosecutor amid questions about how the prosecutor’s office will change under her leadership.

Moments after 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11, while standing on a sidewalk on Clarendon Boulevard near Courthouse, I received a phone call from my friend and deputy campaign manager excitedly telling me that the voters of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church had selected me as the Democratic nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney. In that moment, with the sounds of supporters cheering in the near distance and the sight of young people milling about on a warm spring evening, I was reminded, as I knew from the very start of the campaign, that it would soon be my charge, together with other branches of law enforcement, to help maintain the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of nearly 250,000 people.

The campaign had been long and hard-fought, but in our very first debate, I was asked to name one thing I admired about Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos. I honestly answered that I found it admirable Ms. Stamos had chosen public service when she could have long ago leveraged her skills into more lucrative private sector work. Had I had another moment for thought, I would have added what I also believe to be true: she persevered in a field that had long been dominated by men and, in doing so, opened a path for other women, myself included.

The campaign, of course, is not over. As I prepare for the November general election, I will be guided by three principles. First, I want to keep faith with members of the community who supported, volunteered, and voted for me, and earn the trust of those who did not. Elections come and go, but what endures is community. Second, I want to approach the work ahead with both an open mind and moral courage. I fundamentally believe that the choice between safety and justice has always been a false one; at the same time, I have the utmost respect for the institutional knowledge and professional expertise that resides in the current office. Last but not least, I want to keep foremost in my mind that what’s needed for the office is both integrity and humility. Our delegates, senators, county board, and school board members have deep and intimate knowledge of the needs in our community; I see as one of my main tasks to be an honest partner with them, to listen to their expertise, and take heed of their priorities — because I know the criminal justice system cannot and should not be the tool to solve every problem.

Late Tuesday evening, after all the well-wishers had gone and I’d returned home to my family, I stayed up into the early hours of the morning, making two lists: one, of the people I needed to personally thank for making this moment possible; the other, of the immediate tasks I needed to accomplish to plan for the office. Both lists grew incredibly long but each list, in different ways, made it clear to me that at this moment we have a chance in Arlington and the City of Falls Church to show the Commonwealth and the country what it means to have a criminal justice system that is safe and transparent, truly cares for victims, treats everyone fairly and humanely, and honestly addresses systemic disparities in race and class. “The world stands before you,” James Baldwin once wrote, “and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” I’m eager for the work ahead.

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