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January 24, 2020

On Thursday, the ACLU of Virginia, as part of the Virginia Pretrial Justice Coalition, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary and House Courts of Justice Committees to express our concerns surrounding Virginia's pretrial and bail practices and call for more transparency and institutional data collection. The letter called upon Virginia lawmakers to:

  • exercise caution in relying on the conclusions in Virginia State Crime Commission’s Virginia Pre-Trial Data Project Preliminary Findings 
  • support the public release of the data collected during the VSCC study,
  • and vote in favor of HB 922/SB 723 which call for ongoing data collection regarding Virginia’s pretrial system.

"Caution is urged in drawing any conclusions about Virginia’s pretrial process from these preliminary findings," stated the letter regarding the VSCC's Virginia Pre-trial Data Project Preliminary Findings. "Moreover, until we know more about the Commission’s methodology, the current conclusions in the preliminary report should not be used to make policy without more research. [...] It is our hope that the VSCC’s final report and analysis will include significantly more detail that can inform future decision-making by courts and legislators."

The coalition suggested that the data gathered by the VSCC should be made available to researchers and the public.

"The equity implications of the data are clear as the study confirms the disproportionate minority representation in Virginia’s criminal justice system, with 40% of the approximately 23,000 people in the study cohort being Black, despite the fact that Blacks/African-Americans make up just under 20% of the Commonwealth’s population," stated the letter. "To allow the fullest use of this data and to ensure the public has the ability to be informed about the operation of its criminal justice system on both the state and local level, the data gathered by the VSCC during its study should be made available to researchers and the public."

"The new legislative session is an opportunity to commit to procedures which increase transparency and utilize data to inform our decision-making and improve our understanding of the impacts of pretrial decisions on case outcomes and community safety."

Additionally, the coalition urged lawmakers on the committees to vote in favor of HB 922 (Del. Carroll Foy) and SB 723 (Sen. McClellan), which would require criminal justice agencies across Virginia to collect and share data related to the pretrial process.

"Unlike the VSCC’s data project, these bills create a continuous, sustained collection process, allowing for the ongoing assessment of practices and creation of yardsticks against which to measure the impact of various reforms and changes," stated the letter. "This will enable us to make more informed decisions about how to minimize unnecessary, costly pretrial detention, while promoting community safety and the meaningful, timely disposition of criminal cases. It will allow for examinations of demographics to shed light on issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and age disparities and can promote practices which move the Commonwealth towards a more just criminal legal system."

Co-signatories of the letter are listed below:

  • ACLU of Virginia
  • Civil Rights Corps
  • Justice Forward Virginia
  • League of Women Voters
  • Legal Aid Justice Center
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • New Virginia Majority
  • Pretrial Justice Institute
  • Progress Virginia
  • Richmond Community Bail Fund
  • RIHD, Inc.
  • Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance
  • Williamsburg Court Watch