There’s been a lot of talk about criminal justice reform on the national level as 2020 presidential campaigning is underway, but this has also been a long-running issue right here in the Valley.
Harrisonburg and Rockingham County plan to post a job advertisement next month for the area’s first community justice planner, according to an article in Saturday’s edition of the Daily News-Record. The person who fills this position will be tasked with evaluating the criminal justice system and recommending changes to reduce incarceration rates at the Rockingham County Jail and in the city and county’s portion of Middle River Regional Jail, according to the article.
This has been a conversation for a while — mostly spearheaded by groups like Faith in Action and the Northeast Neighborhood Association — and came in response to growing incarceration numbers for our area.
It doesn’t have unified support, one of the reasons being potential cost. That is a fair concern and one worth exploring, as cost-efficiency for taxpayers should always be a priority. The city and county already voted to include $40,000 each in the 2019-20 fiscal-year budgets, which will go toward salary, benefits and supplies, according to the article.
We have an issue with high levels of incarceration, and that can also be costly. If there are reasonable changes we can make or solutions we can try, then we should. It may not work or solve everything, but that isn’t an excuse for inaction. Rockingham County Administrator Stephen King said the position will be evaluated in three years to see if progress has been made.
In those three years, we may have a real chance to invest in making changes for the betterment of our local and even statewide criminal justice system, the wallets of our taxpayers and those criminals who do wish to re-enter society and be productive members of the community. And if we don’t, at least we will know that we didn’t sit back and do nothing and hopefully will have learned how to proceed in a different way.
“The opportunity before us is to gather data about who is being incarcerated locally, and for how long, and at what expense to the taxpayers,” Faith in Action President Jennifer Davis Sensenig said.
Criminal justice reform is becoming more and more politicized every day with every passing tweet and debate from candidates and sitting political figures, but it’s more than just a political talking point for the Left or Right. It’s a real problem and that likely has several causes and potential solutions — but we won’t be able to figure out any of them if we don’t start somewhere.