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Steve Descano announces new program aimed at erasing criminal records in Fairfax County

Steve Descano announces new program aimed at erasing criminal records in Fairfax County
Steve Descano announces new program aimed at erasing criminal records in Fairfax County
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On Wednesday, a new program aimed at expunging criminal records of people who commit crimes in Fairfax County was announced by Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano.

“Never before has our justice system embarked on something so ambitious aimed at interrupting the cycle of crime,” said Descano. “And providing an off-ramp from incarcerated where a person gets induvial services.”

“By providing individuals with the opportunities to address the root cause of their harmful behavior, this program will allow individuals to realize their potential for the long term,” said Lulu Kelly, the Diversion Program Manager.

The pilot program is called “Taking Root.”

“The focus of Taking Root will be to address a subset of cases where the individual has underlying issues that are the root cause of the behavior that led to criminal involvement,” Descano said in a press release. “Through this program, our hope is that we can bring closer the day when the color of skin, a person’s zip code and the amount of money in their bank account does not dictate their involvement in the legal system.”

Those who are not eligible for the new program are people who are charged with violent crimes, sex offenses, and domestic violence.

When 7News asked who may qualify, 7News was told people who have committed lower-level crimes like theft.

“I know there are going to be people who attack that,” said Descano. “ And I’m fine with that. I’m here to serve the community to make it a better place to make it a safer place.”

Descano’s reform approach has been criticized by Virginia’s Attorney General, Jason Miyares, time and time again.

RELATED: AG Miyares slams Descano for reduced charges of man accused of killing homeless men

Miyares argues Descano is soft on crime.

“I’m not here to avoid controversy or to avoid criticism that may come because right now we are doing the right thing for this community,” Descano said on Wednesday.

In December 2020, Descano sent his prosecutorial team a memo directing them to make plea offers that avoid legislatively mandated minimum jail sentences and dispose of felony charges as misdemeanors where appropriate.

READ MORE: Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares slams "far-left prosecutors" Descano and Biberaj

After Descano sent that memo, his office has seen turnover.

“Twenty-nine attorneys have left your office since 2020. Do you have a staffing crisis?” asked 7News Reporter Nick Minock.

“No we don’t have a staffing crisis,” said Descano. “A matter of fact, since we took office we more than doubled the size of the staff. The idea that some people leave, that does happen. And as we sit here right now we are essentially a fully staffed office. Fully staffed agency of 83 people. When you come into an agency that has done the same thing for decades and has the same mindset and mission or the same focus, people get used to doing things a certain way. I came in and promised the community we are going to do things a certain way. Focusing on reform and building a safer system.”

“You [Descano] mentioned a couple of times ‘the old way of doing things’. Since you brought it up, could you describe the old way of doing things?” Minock asked.

“I’m happy to answer that question,” said Descano. “When I refer to the old way of doing things, it's quite frankly the old way of running the prosecutor’s office. Where there is only one way of intervention. And that is prison or jail. And the goal of that intervention is maximum time. Maximum punishment. The idea that we are going to solve a drug addiction crisis by putting people in jail. The idea that we are going to solve the mental health issue for somebody by sticking them into prison. We know that doesn’t work. That is the easier way to run a prosecutor’s shop. That is the way, quite frankly, for decades, the commonwealths attorneys office in Fairfax ran this shop.”

Descano said the Taking Root program was made possible by grant funding from the Vera Institute for Justice.

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Descano said the pilot program will help 35 people. He added that he hopes the program, which is a partnership with Opportunities Alternatives Resolutions, will last longer than a year.

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