Ray's Plan for Charlottesville

The United States is the only country in the world that elects its prosecutors. We do it because prosecutors’ actions in court should reflect their community’s values. This is a platform that I hope reflects Charlottesville’s values: That incarceration isn’t the answer. That we can keep our community safer by doing more than locking people up. –Ray

The U.S. locks up more people than any other country in the world, and Virginia is worse than most states. Having grown up with a family member incarcerated and fought mass incarceration as a public defender, Ray believes the most important thing the Commonwealth’s Attorney can do is stop over-incarcerating our neighbors. We know these things are wrong, and we shouldn’t wait for the General Assembly to change the law. We must immediately change “business-as-usual” in the courts and stop current harms now.

1. Stop Prosecuting Drug Possession as a Felony

When our fellow community members are struggling with addiction, we should help them find treatment—not brand them with the lifelong stigma of a felony conviction. This doesn’t need to wait for General Assembly action. This can happen now.

2. Create Avenues for Restorative Justice

Many victims want to be made whole through restorative justice programs that repair harms done by criminal activity, rather than punitive sentences. As Commonwealth’s Attorney, Ray will bring in national experts and grant funding to build new programs that incorporate those principles.

3. Stop Using the Jail as a Mental-Health Backstop

Jail is not a humane solution to a mental-health crisis, but our current mental-health system is a patchwork that leaves many people behind, pushing many people facing mental health challenges into prison unnecessarily. This treatment gap often correlates with low-level criminal charges like trespassing. Ray will divert more cases away from criminal court—and away from the jail.  

4. End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

We’re sending too many students from school directly into the courts system. Ray will work to create more diversion options, including a restorative-justice program modeled on successful efforts in Fairfax.

Ray will also ensure that fewer kids are placed on probation. Probation should be reserved for the highest-risk children. Instead, our community needs to find more ways to support children and their parents. 

5. Fix the Broken Discovery Process

When a person is accused of a crime, they should be able to review the evidence. Currently, the discovery process can take weeks or months. That’s unacceptable—especially when a criminal defendant is held without bond. Ray will streamline the discovery process, following the model of federal prosecutors.

6. Stamp Out Pretextual Police Stops

The General Assembly recently enacted sweeping legislation to curb the use of “pretextual stops” by police. As Commonwealth’s Attorney, Ray will keep that promise and refuse to prosecute cases based on pretextual police encounters.

We also have a legacy of mass incarceration that we need to unwind. As Commonwealth’s Attorney, Ray will commit to repairing those past harms.

1. Establish a Conviction Integrity Unit

Public confidence grows when public officials hold themselves accountable, and we know Charlottesville has made mistakes. Ray will work with groups like the Innocence Project to re-examine past sentences and let wrongly-convicted people return to their families. 

2. Empower a Community Advisory Group

Prosecutors need to be willing to admit and repair the mistakes of the past. By establishing a Community Advisory Group, Ray will partner with overpoliced communities and re-entry groups to understand and address past harms done by the criminal justice system. (As with other consultants, these group members should be compensated for their time, labor, and expertise.)

By addressing past harms and ending current ones, we’re getting at the symptoms of mass incarceration. To more seriously pare back mass incarceration and keep our community safe, we need to get at the roots of why people end up in court. 

1. Establish New Specialty Dockets like Misdemeanor Drug Court and a Community Service Docket

Charlottesville needs more alternatives to jail. Ray will work to establish new specialty dockets to connect people with treatment without bringing the cases to felony court. 

2. Be an Active Partner to the PCRB and Aggressively Review Police Use of Force

Charlottesville’s newly formed Police Civilian Review Board needs a strong partner in the Commonwealth’s Attorney office. Ray will help restore public confidence in the police by scrutinizing police use of force and refusing to accept testimony from officers who have lied in the past.

3. Create Parent/Teacher Advisory Council 

Prosecutors need to hear from parents and teachers who are on the ground, in the local schools. By holding regular meetings with a parent/teacher advisory council, Ray will stay plugged in to Charlottesville’s schools. 

4. Collect and Publish Data on Court Proceedings 

So much about our criminal-justice system goes unscrutinized because we don’t have accurate data about what happens in court and why people end up there. Ray will collect and publish data on court proceedings, then work with community organizations to use that data and inform office policy.

5. Link More Patients to Mental Health Care

Many members of the community want access to mental health care but find the current patchwork system frustrating. Ray will encourage the community to invest in mental-health-care navigators to connect more people with treatment. 

We need a voice in Richmond who will echo our community’s values. Charlottesville is consistently among the loudest voices for reform in the General Assembly, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney is another voice our community can bring to the conversation about making meaningful criminal justice reform in Richmond. Ray will bring our community’s values to Richmond and advocate for meaningful reform in the legislature and City Hall.

1. Advocate for the End to Criminalizing Drug Possession

We can’t make meaningful progress on ending the criminalization of addiction until we stop criminalizing drug possession and focus on treatment. The Crime Commission is studying this issue in the coming year, and Ray will work in Richmond to support that work.

2. Invest the Savings from Prosecution in Housing, Treatment, and Diversion

By spending less on minor prosecutions, Ray will free up resources to invest in the reasons why people end up in court—like housing, mental health care, and substance use treatment. He’ll work in Richmond and with City Hall to ensure those savings get spent where they’ll be most effective in preventing crime and keeping families together.

3. Continue Fighting for Public Defender Pay Parity

The current Commonwealth’s Attorneys for Charlottesville and Albemarle—Joe Platania and Jim Hingeley—have been active advocates for equal pay between prosecutors and public defenders. Ray will continue that advocacy in Richmond and City Hall to ensure our public defenders are being paid fairly for their work.