Sunday, July 7, 2013

#1 Fiscal Impact Request from 2013 Virginia General Assembly Legislation per the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission was….. Sex Offenders!

The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission is not a Legislative branch like the Virginia State Crime Commission  The VCSC is a Judicial branch, they mainly conduct studies and gather data on sentencing guidelines in Virginia.

A little known fact for most citizens is if the VCSC decides to change a sentence guideline for any crime a bill does not need to be submitted at the yearly General Assembly session in Richmond. The proposed change is just listed in the VCSC December report and unless a lawmaker proposes a bill in-time for the January session NOT to allow the VCSC change to take effect that upcoming July it automatically becomes law with no discussion, debate or media attention. 

I’ve been monitoring the VCSC meetings for the last 3 years and I’ve noticed that they have never decreased any sentencing guidelines only increased them. I personally find that very interesting because at the Federal level there has long been discussions about the Over-Criminalization of America not just because of Federal overreach into matters that should be handled by the states but also because of the heavy use of mandatory minimums stripping judges and juries from weighing the evidence in individual cases before deciding on a sentence. 
On June 14, 2013 the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the Over-Criminalization of America which Rep. Bobby Scott sits on and one of the invited speakers was Richmond Attorney Steven Benjamin. All the testimony from the Chairman to the invited speakers can be found here. At a Federal level the much needed discussion of scaling back the number of crimes and the lengthy prison sentences is finally occurring but still not at a state level. Why the disconnect? 

Every G.A. session in Virginia new and increased mandatory minimums are proposed and passed, as is increasing the few misdemeanors we still have into felonies. The Administration and most of the Legislators want to be “tough on crime” but very few want to be “smart on crime”. 

For at least the last 3 years the VCSC has considered enhancing the Virginia Sex Offender Risk Assessment form (slide 26). Why? When there are so many other crimes at such a higher rate in Virginia. 

The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission compiles the fiscal impact statements for every submitted bill during the General Assembly session. Every session including in 2013 “sex offender” bills were the number one request by patrons (slide 14) even though sexual assault and rape are near the bottom of the annual list of crimes committed in Virginia. Plus sexual crime recidivism rates are the second lowest of all re-offense rates. But yet year in and year out our Virginia lawmakers are drafting and proposing a landslide of bills to spend more money and to throw more resources at the Virginia Sex Offender Registry, instead of programs to stop abuse and crimes from occurring in the first place.  

Why? Because it makes for good campaign and website material they'll be considered “tough on predators”. 

We need a smarter, more accurate registry in Virginia not a bigger more expensive one.