Virginia governor pens op-ed about work for communities of color

Virginia governor pens op-ed about work for communities of color
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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post on Tuesday in which he touted a series of criminal justice reforms that he said will address racial disparities.

Northam wrote that he plans to veto two mandatory minimum sentencing bills this week, one of which would impose a 60-day mandatory minimum for assault and battery against a family or household member by anyone with a recent assault and battery conviction, and another that would establish a six-month mandatory minimum for killing or injuring an animal used by law enforcement, which is already a felony in Virginia.

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“While violence is unacceptable, these are crimes that can be addressed by a judge with full knowledge of the facts and circumstances of each particular case,” Northam wrote. “Piling on mandatory minimum sentences has contributed to our growing prison population over the past few decades, to the point that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.”

Northam notes that mandatory-minimum statutes related to drug offenses spiked in the 1980s and 1990s, which, along with three-strikes laws, he blamed for the increase in mass incarceration.

“Data do not indicate that mandatory minimum sentences keep our communities safer,” he wrote. “Instead, mandatory minimums are disproportionately harming people and communities of color.”

He cited data indicating the federal prison population is on the decline, which may be due in part to the rollback of federal mandatory minimums through legislation such as the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act.

“There are better ways to ensure that the punishment fits the crime, and many of these ways are already in our code, such as sentencing guidelines,” Northam wrote.

Northam’s editorial comes exactly three months after news broke that a photo of a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page.

The Virginia governor resisted bipartisan calls for his resignation and an April poll found that more Virginians surveyed wanted him to remain in office than want him to resign, although another survey indicated he is among the nation’s 10 least popular governors.