Governor Northam's criminal justice agenda step in the right direction for local advocate

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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV)— Governor Ralph Northam recently announced a new criminal justice reform agenda. A variety of initiatives are included, like tackling the felony larceny threshold, addressing driver's license suspensions and expanding parole in some cases. The founder of the Institute for Reforms and Solutions in Staunton said it's a step in the right direction.

Dr. Nancy Insco said several of the items on the list are important for breaking the cycle of crime, like ending the suspension of drivers licenses for non-driving offenses. Dr. Insco said a driver's license is critical for getting a job and earning money to pay fees and fines incurred going through the court system.

Without a steady income, Dr. Insco said many people are often committing crimes again. The need for a driver's license is especially prevalent in more rural areas.

"It's really important though that they have the transportation to be able to get there, and in rural areas, what we find is because of the lack of mass transit, it's impossible for them to get to their job," Dr. Insco said.

She added locally, the expansion of the Brite Bus system in Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro has been very important for people to be able to get to jobs.

Dr. Insco also said raising the felony larceny threshold to $1,000 is a very good step, but they would also like to see changes how misdemeanor thefts can lead to felonies. Dr. Insco said often the third misdemeanor larceny is a felony. She said she's seen people in the community receive serious sentences for being convicted of three relatively small thefts.

Even with all that's including in the reform agenda, Dr. Insco said there are still reforms she would like to see go further, like spending more money on. She said social justice advocates would like to see more money set aside for justice reinvestment. Dr. Insco said treatment programs for people in custody are also critical.

"The more mental health programs, the better," Dr. Insco said. "The treatment of mental health together with addictions is absolutely critical."

Dr. Insco said overall, raising the felony threshold is something that really sticks out to her. She said changing that would reduce the number of people in custody.