Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Democrat from Prince William County, Virginia, plans to sponsor over 10 criminal justice reform bills during the current legislative session, the AP reports.
According to a 2015 study performed by the Center for Public Integrity, Virginia charges students with crimes more than any other state. The state also has a low threshold for what constitutes grand larceny, which leads those who commit minor theft to face harsh sentences.
With her bills, Carroll Foy hopes to address these problems, and others she has identified in her state's criminal justice system.
“We send more students from the classroom to the courtroom than any other state in the country,” Carroll Foy said recently. “Now we lock them up early, and we lock them up at large.”
To fix this problem, the delegate has introduced House Bill 445, which would eliminate the requirement that principals report certain misdemeanor incidents to local police.
“The punishment should fit the crime,” Carroll Foy said, turning to the topic of sentencing. “Felonies should be reserved for some of the most egregious crimes in the commonwealth of Virginia, and that’s not happening.”
In order to change how punishment is meted out, Carroll Foy introduced House Bill 113, which would raise Virginia's grand larceny threshold from $200 to $1,000.
Carroll Foy's new bills join a spate of reform-minded bills recently introduced at the state level in Virginia. These include bills such as House Bill 296, sponsored by Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) and Senate Bill 170 by Senator William Stanley (R-Franklin), which would prohibit suspending or expelling students in preschool through third grade except for the cases of drug offenses, firearm offenses or certain other criminal acts.
Policy analyst Allison Gilbreath believes that these changes are necessary and will help to address broader societal problems.
“One in five kids who are suspended in our public schools are pre-K through fifth grade,” Gilbreath said. “We want to really focus on the underlying problems that they’re experiencing.”