The following announcement is from Parisa Tafti, who announced last night that she’s running for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington/Falls Church. I met with Parisa Tafti a couple months ago and was very impressed with her. And while I like incumbent Commonwealth Attorney Theo Stamos personally, I disagree with her support for Republican John Vihstadt over Democratic County Board nominee Matt de Ferranti in the 2018 election (and Vihstadt over Democratic County Board nominee Alan Howze in 2014), and definitely want to hear more about what Tafti says are Stamos’ (alleged – is that really the case?) support for “mass incarceration” and opposition to “real bail reform” (same question, because we definitely need to reform that system). [UPDATE – I’m also interested in her reasoning for signing this brief on restoration of ex-felons’ rights] So…we’ll see how this race goes, but I’m certainly intrigued by Parisa Tafti’s candidacy and am interested in comparing/contrasting her’s and Theo Stamos’ visions for the Arlington/Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney office going forward. By the way, I wonder how many people ever think about the Commonwealth’s Attorney position. Not sure, but I have a feeling people will be thinking a lot more about it in 2019, as my understanding is that there could be primaries for this position in several Virginia jurisdictions next year. – Lowell
Why is a lifelong public defender and innocence protection attorney with a more than 18-year record of defending the indigent and speaking for the innocent, running for Commonwealth Attorney (the chief prosecutor) for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, Virginia?
I’m Parisa and the reason is simple: The American criminal justice system is now a mass incarceration machine set on auto-pilot. As a public defender, I know all too well how this machine dismantles communities, destroys families, uses bad science, and wastes money. For some, the mass incarceration machine operates out of sight and out of mind but for far too many communities, it is all too present. It disproportionately catches in its gears Black & Latino people, the poor, kids, and those who suffer from mental illness or addiction.
The machine is so efficient that the US imprisons people at a higher rate than any other country on earth. Though 5% of the world’s population, we have nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. If our prison population was a city it would be the 5th largest in the US.
As the most important part of the machine, prosecutors have great discretion to classify nuisances as crimes, demand cash bail from the poor, treat kids as adults, stack up charges, compel plea bargains, seek the death penalty, and advocate against legislative reforms. In Arlington, the machine cycles thousands of people through its jail each year. Black people are 9% of the county population but 66% of the jail population. About 3/4 of those in jails haven’t been convicted and many can’t afford bail. And 60% of them are on psychotropic drugs.
The current CA sees nothing wrong with any of this: she’s been a prosecutor in the same office for 30 years and CA for the last 8. She has opposed real bail reform and restoring voting rights for returning citizens; she supports the death penalty and civil asset forfeiture. But perhaps nothing exemplifies the current CA’s unsuitability to lead meaningful reform than the fact that she has publicly denied that mass incarceration even exists and has argued that the system is working perfectly.
I’m offering an alternative. I want to dismantle the mass incarceration machine and replace it with policies that pursue justice, increase accountability, prevent crime, prioritize serious crimes, and protect civil rights. I’m not a lifelong prosecutor but my experience in the system runs deep. I’ve stood in a small southern courtroom to argue for the release of a Black man convicted by a racist jury. I’ve sat across from clients who couldn’t understand me because of the voices in their heads.
I’ve waited at prison gates with mothers for the release of their sons who spent decades incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. And what I know is that we deserve a better system than the current mass incarceration machine. And I also know that we can no longer hope for reform from the very same lifelong prosecutors who’ve spent their careers building this flawed machine. And I also know this above all else:
No social reform aimed at making us a more perfect union – be it employment, housing, voting, mental health care, education, family well-being, or the ever-pressing work for racial justice — can happen without first establishing a fair and humane criminal justice system.
So, I’m asking for your support. Let’s you and I dismantle the mass incarceration machine; let’s you and I build a system that pursues justice, prevents crime, and protects civil rights. Please help and donate atparisaforjustice.com. Visit me on Fb at parisa4justice, on twitter @parisa4justice, and Instagram at parisaforjustice. Because change can’t wait.