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'Bold step forward' | Governor Northam announces criminal justice reform agenda

Initiatives include decriminalization of marijuana, parole reform, the permanent elimination of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines, fees, and court costs.

RICHMOND, Va. — Ahead of the 2020 General Assembly on January 8, Governor Ralph Northam unveiled his proposed criminal justice reform agenda. Initiatives include decriminalization of marijuana, parole reform, the permanent elimination of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines, fees, and court costs and more.

In the agenda, Northam is proposing decriminalize simple possession of marijuana, creating a $50 civil penalty instead. The legislation would also clear the records of individuals who have been previously convicted of simple possession.

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“All Virginians deserve access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” said Governor Northam. “My proposed criminal justice reform legislation and budget initiatives will combat mass incarceration, increase supports for returning citizens, and ensure meaningful second chances for those who have paid their debts to society. This is a bold step towards a more just and inclusive Commonwealth, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to pass these measures into law.”

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The governor's agenda includes proposed legislation to raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,000. In 2018, the Governor signed bipartisan legislation raising the felony larceny threshold to $500—the first time it had been raised since 1980. 

Northam said this newly proposed increase will bring Virginia in line with many other states and ensure one mistake does not forever impact a person’s life. Felony convictions carry prison time and create a criminal record that can be a barrier to education, housing, jobs, and more.

Last year, Governor Northam and the General Assembly eliminated the practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees. Since that time, over 50,000 Virginians have had their licenses reinstated.

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Governor Northam’s proposed legislation would make this change permanent.

The governor is also proposing parole reform by expanding eligibility for parole consideration to individuals based on their age and certain medical conditions. In addition, the Governor’s legislative package would expand parole consideration to individuals impacted by the Fishback v. Commonwealth case.

Finally, Northam’s two-year budget makes significant investments in criminal justice reform. The proposed budget includes $4.6 million for pre-trial and probation services, funding for a new public defender’s office in Prince William County, and additional public defender positions across the Commonwealth to reduce caseload. Additionally, the budget includes $2 million for pre-release and post-incarceration services.

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Below is the full agenda from Governor Northam: