Un-carceration: Prosecutor candidate Deaton talks jail reform

Steven B. Deaton is gunning for the Democratic nomination for Charlottesville commonwealth's attorney– again– and on a rainy Wednesday, May 8, under the protection of the Pavilion's roof, he made his case.

"We have filled our jails and prisons with nonviolent offenders–it's time to reverse that trend," said Deaton, speaking directly about race in the matter by recommending the 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, which points out that the United States incarcerates 25 percent of the prisoners in the world, and that the majority of those in jail are African-American men.

Deaton is challenging current Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. "Dave" Chapman, who unseated Deaton in 1993. Deaton says there's a need to scale down prison growth, an issue he says Chapman hasn't taken up. 

"Some people don't want to talk about this," said Deaton, who is now in private practice. "We need to stop the prison-industrial system and start something new. I think we can make much better use of our money."

As Deaton pointed out, the state has built a new $100-million prison in Grayson County, despite declining crime rates locally and nationally.

"The goal of the criminal justice system," said Deaton "should not be to fill up as many jail spaces as we can, but to see how many can be left empty. And we should strive to see how many jails and prisons are not built."

Deaton explained that that could be done with crime prevention through education.

"The Commonwealth Attorney's Office should be speaking to youth groups on ways to avoid problems with the law," said Deaton. "For every one crime we prevent, we save the state money, help a young person from ruining their life and prevent a potential victim from harm. It's time to end the madness of mass incarceration, especially with nonviolent offenders."

"He's actually quite late to that discussion," says Chapman, who contends he has advocated a variety of measures to hold people accountable, especially nonviolent offenders, besides giving them jail time. "We've been looking at that the past few years."

For example, Chapman suggests that doing away with weekend jail sentences might be a good place to start.

"We already say it's okay for low-risk, nonviolent offenders to be in the community during the week," he says.

Chapman says he's also been a proponent of  sentences that require people to report to a work site or do community service.

Drug and mental health treatment, employment services, routine drug testing, and enhanced supervision to forestall readmission to jail are other ways to keep people out of jail, Chapman says.

"I am with sleeves rolled up right in the middle of this," he says.

Indeed, in response to concerns about overcrowding at our own Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, Chapman and jail officials are considering a day center to monitor low-level, repeat offenders, as opposed to spending an estimated $25 million on a jail expansion. 

"If he's 'rolled up his sleeves' on that issue, great," says Deaton, "but I have yet to hear him speak publicly about the need to stop building more prisons. That's the issue. It's like that quote from the movie Field of Dreams. With prisons, if you build it, they will fill it. We need to stop building them, and I haven't heard [Chapman] say that publicly."

Nominations for commonwealth's attorney will be voted on at the Democratic primary on June 11.


A lot of the "non violent" offenders are petty thieves who spend their days committing crimes which costs the taxpayers money through uninsured losses, deductibles or higher insurance premiums. So those numbers need to be deducted from any savings.

Maybe the reason there is such a high rate of return is because we failed to teach them a lesson when we had them. Perhaps mandating ethics classes and basic education classes in readfing writing and arithmatic. Work farms and chain gangs might make it so that jail and prison would be like burning your hand on a stove and you learn not to try that again.

If he wants to prescribe community service with anke bracelets and curfews in lieu of prison, that could work.

Trotting out the blacks being disproportiantly represented is a red herring. Assuming they are pretty much all guilty the solution to that equation is not to let out convicted criminals but to do a better job of nailing other races. If they are getting arrested becauseof their race thern document it instead of accusing Judges of giving improper sentencing.

When Mr. Deaton was the lead prosecutor here he was known to be lazy, cut corners and was unethical in dealing with the defense bar. Maybe those new to the bar are unaware of how bad things were but those of us who were here remember the relief when a professional, ethical prosecutor took over.

Best of luck, Mr. Chapman

im not familiar with Mr. Chapman but I applaud his courage to stand against our nations most glaring blight of justice, morality, and racial equality. Its very easy to be detached from the realities of this oppresive system and swallow whole the rhetoric we've been programmed to believe for decades. Our representatives seem to view the lives of those affected by the war on drugs as the stock holders of the private for profit prisons do, as nothing more than commodities, as they turn their backs on the destruuction caused by this war to families and entire communities alike. This is sad, this is America

Chapman ethical? He prosecutes black rapists but not one UVA student rapist? He's a uva grad and a uva law grad? He's a uva stoodge!

Deaton is just being brought out because they have no one else and Chapman has to go. Deputy Worrell leaving to become a judge.

Why the sudden changes after 20 years?

Next will be Longo as his wife and daughter both work for UVA.

Nothing is at arms length in UVA land. Ask Hogshire.

In the days of the old Jim Crow, a prosecutor or other public official who expressed concern
about those laws was vilified, often anonymously. They were called "lazy," "stupid," "unethical," "incompetent" and other pejorative terms not fit for print.
So we have heard this before...

@Experience with UVa...It is mind-boggling to consider your statement on rape. I have seen several studies and from around 3% to 6.5% undergrad women reported rape or attempted rape in the US in various years. So, for argument's sake, let's drop the UVa number to 1.5% (I am being generous here) and I will guess 9,000 undergrad women (really rough guess here!).

So, in the last 10 years, rape or attempted rape has happened 1,350 times at UVa (at the absolute minimum). And not one student has been prosecuted? Am I correct here?

That is mind-blowing.

R.I.P.: Kitty Genovese