Every step of the criminal legal system – including law enforcement, criminal courts, jails and prisons, and reentry into society – is plagued with racism, cruelty, and inadequate oversight.

Virginia incarcerates too many people for far too long. We’re working to decrease the number of people incarcerated by 50 percent and reduce racial disparities at every level.

People who have been accused or convicted of a crime often don’t have the support they need. That’s why we advocate for those impacted by the criminal legal system: 

  • In 2020, we litigated and reached an agreement with the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) forcing officials to publish data on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in prisons, consider more people for early release to limit the spread of COVID, and ensure proper hygienic standards in all its facilities.
  • We produced a report in 2018 on the use of solitary confinement in Virginia and the lifelong physical and mental harm it causes.
  • Our documentary, “InJustice: Hidden Crisis in Virginia’s Prisons,” premiered in 2022. We interviewed incarcerated people, their families, activists and lawmakers to highlight the long-lasting, widespread impact that the prison system has on our communities.

We have a long way to go. Our criminal legal system is designed to keep people down without solving society’s problems. Politicians in some parts of Virginia win with “tough on crime” rhetoric, and Virginia’s policies often favor law enforcement agencies over communities. Every day, thousands of Virginians are held in jail without being convicted of a crime.

Small changes won’t cut it. We need major reforms to our criminal legal system before the system can truly protect justice for all.

MAKE A DONATION today to support people. Not prisons. 


Sincere Allah was sentenced to 45 years in prison shortly after his 18th birthday. Facing a potential death sentence, he accepted a plea deal and spent 24 years in prison. He was pardoned by Gov. Northam and released on January 14, 2022.

While incarcerated, Sincere not only learned new trades, but also took business courses through UVA's Darden School of Business and sociology and economics classes through Washington & Lee University.

He even designed his own program on personal growth for a therapeutic community, led by incarcerated people. The pilot program he helped to create later expanded to 11 different VADOC facilities, supporting people with mental health and substance use disorders.

Since his release, Sincere continues to help people work through trauma and substance use disorders as a certified peer recovery specialist. He works alongside the ACLU of Virginia and other organizations to advocate for people who are incarcerated and help lawmakers understand the harsh realities of the criminal legal system.

What are my rights when I get stopped by the police?

A.What are my rights when I get stopped by the police?


You have the right to record police. You have the right to know if and why you’re being detained. You have the right to refuse a search.

Know your rights during an encounter with law enforcement. While it should not be your responsibility to do so, it could help you de-escalate a volatile situation and save you from unnecessary legal trouble.

What measures currently exist in Virginia for someone to get an early release from prison?

A.What measures currently exist in Virginia for someone to get an early release from prison?


The main mechanism for early release is through earned sentence credits, which the ACLU of Virginia is working to make sure the Virginia Department of Corrections continues to recognize. With “good behavior” and participation in rehabilitation programs, people who are incarcerated may earn up to 15 days off their sentence for every 30 days served in prison (although many people are only eligible to earn a maximum of 4.5 days for every 30 days served). Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, although some people may still be eligible. Governors also have the power to issue individual pardons.

The ACLU of Virginia supports Second Look legislation: a path that allows judges to reconsider harsh sentences. Read stories from formerly incarcerated people and learn why Virginia needs Second Look legislation now.

How steep is the markup on items people who are incarcerated have to buy in prison?

A.How steep is the markup on items people who are incarcerated have to buy in prison?


Being incarcerated in Virginia is expensive, and the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) relies heavily on profiting off of the families of the people it locks up.

The high prices vendors that provide services to Virginia prisons are charging aren’t just the cost of doing business. For example, the same vendor that provides prison phone calls in Illinois charges people incarcerated in Virginia 20 percent more. In Virginia, it can cost as much as 50 cents to send one email from prison – more than incarcerated Virginians make in an hour of work. 

No one should have to go into debt to stay connected with their loved ones. But in Virginia, one in three families does exactly that. Prison and jail profiteering currently extract $44 million from Virginians, 83 percent of them women, the vast majority of them people of color, and disproportionately the poorest people in the Commonwealth. Virginia should join the other states that have made communication with loved ones free, as these connections are crucial for an incarcerated person’s well-being and to their success after release. Look at our full list of recommendations for VADOC to ease the financial burden on the people in Virginia prisons and their families.