Editor: Years ago, I was part of a team that asked then Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos to allow young people an alternative to criminal prosecution for first-time drug possession. She embraced the idea, and Second Chance was created.
Since then, more than 500 students have completed this early-intervention/education program. Members of Stamos’ staff participate in teaching the monthly classes, providing information to students about their legal rights, the criminal-justice system and the consequences of a criminal conviction. They also attend monthly meetings to review data about the program to improve its effectiveness.
I also have worked with Stamos on domestic violence and sexual assault through Project PEACE, Arlington’s community response to support survivors and hold offenders accountable. Stamos leads Arlington’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which recently created a SART protocol, considered a model for the commonwealth. And there are no untested rape kits in Arlington.
As a former chair of the Arlington School Board, I am troubled by the claims of the opponent in the commonwealth’s attorney’s race that we have a school-to-prison pipeline. The ACLU describes this as funneling students out of school into the criminal justice system through harsh school-discipline policies. The facts belie the claim that this is happening in Arlington. Arrests of juveniles who are Arlington residents have declined from 292 in 2007 to 181 in 2017, according to a 2019 Community Report of the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families.
That same report shows that 1 percent of Arlington students received out-of-school suspensions in 2017-18, compared with 5 percent for Virginia overall. While juvenile arrests are declining and suspension rates are low, students are succeeding academically, with a 92-percent graduation rate last year.
Instead of harsh discipline policies, we have programs like Second Chance and New Directions, a small program with intensive supports for students convicted of crimes to allow them to stay in school and graduate on time.
As a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Arlington, I am troubled by the claims by Parisa Tafti that we have mass incarceration in Arlington. Arlington’s jail population is at its lowest number in five years and we have the lowest recidivism rate for adults on probation in Virginia. Stamos instituted a drug court here in 2012, which has contributed to these reductions.
It is important to know that the commonwealth’s attorney is the chief criminal trial attorney for Arlington and Falls Church, leading a team of of criminal-trial attorneys who each year handle thousands of misdemeanor and felony cases, from drunk driving to rape, robbery and murder.
While Arlington is a safe community, serious crime does happen here. We need someone, like Stamos, with the experience to prosecute these cases. Her opponent has done important work on post-conviction appeals, but is not an experienced criminal-trial attorney.
The narrative that Stamos’s opponent spins of Arlington as a place of mass incarceration, with a school-to-prison pipeline and harsh treatment of those involved in the criminal justice system, is not supported by the facts. Having worked with Stamos for 25 years in various capacities, I know her to be committed to prevention efforts to reduce crime, diversion programs, support of crime victims and our community’s safety.
I support her re-election and encourage others to do the same.
Abby Raphael, Arlington