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April 23, 2009 -- Sen. Jim Webb's Website (US)

Criminal Justice Tour of Virginia Underscores Need for Reform

"It Is In The Self-Interest Of Every American That We Truly Reform Our System"

By Senator Jum Webb

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Last week, while Congress was adjourned for the district work period, I visited various facilities related to the criminal justice system during a week-long tour through Virginia. With an eye toward reforming our system, the trip provided an opportunity to take a first-hand look at the problems and potential in our jails and rehabilitation programs.

The sobering experience of walking through the Richmond City Jail fortified my determination to get the legislation that I introduced -- the National Criminal Justice Commission Act -- passed this year. It is in the self-interest of every American that we dedicate time and energy to truly evaluate and reform our criminal justice system. The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 (S.714) establishes a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation's entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. I'm pleased to have 23 cosponsors on the bill, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member, Arlen Specter, who is the lead Republican cosponsor of the bill, and seven additional members of that all-important committee. The bill has also received initial support from the White House, the Department of Justice, and numerous criminal justice organizations.

My tour began at the Bragg Hill Family Life Center in Fredericksburg, followed by a visit to the Richmond City Jail and tour of The Healing Place, a Richmond-based rehabilitation facility. I concluded the trip in Charlottesville at the annual conference of Virginia-based federal public defenders and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorneys, who represent indigent defendants, where I delivered the keynote address.

Facilities like Bragg Hill in Fredericksburg and The Healing Place in Richmond are great models of how we can affirmatively address criminal justice matters nationwide. The commendable work being done in these facilities underscores the interconnectivity of issues facing our local communities. The U.S. criminal justice system is in serious need of repair, and the people we met with last week understand first-hand the need for comprehensive approaches and solutions.

At the Bragg Hill Family Life Center last Tuesday, I met with program staff, program participants, and partner organizations. The Center, housed in a building that once served as a regional juvenile detention facility, provides a variety of education, nutrition, wellness, employment training, and social services to disadvantaged citizens of the Fredericksburg area. Bragg Hill places special emphasis on increasing family and community stability in order to provide positive opportunities for at-risk youth and adults facing social and economic challenges.

The unfortunate reality for many communities is that local jails and prisons serve as economic engines. Turning them into places like the Bragg Hill center -- a former juvenile detention center that now offers at-risk youth and adults affirmative life choices -- should be one of our ultimate objectives.

The final stop of my week-long tour was the second annual Frank Dunham Criminal Defense Conference in Charlottesville. There I laid out the details of my legislation before 125 private and public defenders who represent indigent defendants. The conference attendees were thoughtfully engaged in the issues presented, and I look forward to working with groups from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum to pass this legislation.

The National Criminal Justice Commission Act is the result of decades of investigation and more than two years of intensive fact-finding in the U.S. Senate. In the 110th Congress, I chaired a number of hearings of the Joint Economic Committee that examined various aspects of the criminal justice system and also conducted a symposium on drugs in America at George Mason University Law Center.

Our failure to address the issue of criminal justice threatens every community in the United States and begs for the notion of fairness. I am hopeful we will get the legislation passed and enacted into law this year.

To read Chelyen Davis's piece in the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star, "Webb praises Bragg Hill program as national model," please visit:

To read the Culpeper Star Exponent's piece, "Webb advocates for nationwide prison reform," please visit:

To read Jeff Shapiro's piece in the Richmond Times Dispatch, "Webb goes on the road for prison reform," please visit:

To watch NBC 29/WVIR's segment, "Webb Makes Stop in Charlottesville," please visit:

To learn more about The National Criminal Justice Commission Act (S.714), please visit:

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