Commonwealth’s Attorney Deghani-Tafti Partners with Vera Institute of Justice


The Vera Institute of Justice announced that Arlington County and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (pictured above) and St. Louis, Missouri Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner would be the first of ten new prosecutors in a program designed to provide support and training to cut criminal justice racial disparity by 20 percent.

“The Vera Institute of Justice will provide assistance with data analysis, staff training, community engagement, and policy support to expand the offices’ understanding of the criminal legal system’s history of racial injustice and guide them on a path toward a more equitable future,” a Vera Institute press release states.

“As a former prosecutor, I know the unique and immense power that prosecutors wield. They can either perpetuate the injustices of the criminal legal system or work to rectify them,” Vera Institute of Justice Director of Reshaping Prosecution Jami Hodge said. “Only when local prosecutors seek to understand the historical and current harm of criminal legal policies and practices on Black people and other marginalized communities will they be ready to enact bold, lasting change.”

The Vera Institute will provide policy recommendations, data on prosecution practices impact to marginalized communities and Black people, educational materials, and financial support for a community organizations that partner with the prosecutors to implement the racially equitable practices.

Heritage Foundation Legal Fellow Zach Smith told The Virginia Star that the Vera Institute is part of a broader group of organizations pushing to transform the criminal justice system, based on a fundamental understanding of the criminal justice system as inherently racist.

“[They] speak in general platitudes. Everyone has the same reaction,” Smith said. “Of course we don’t want our systems to be racist. Of course we want everyone to be treated fairly regardless of color of their religion, of their ethnicity, of any other characteristics they might have.”

He said, “But unfortunately again, when you look at what exactly their Institute is proposing, what the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s offices who are partnering with the Institute are doing, it’s something completely different, where again, they’re just not enforcing whole swaths of the criminal code.”

Deghani-Tafti is one of the Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice, a group that has advocated not enforcing certain laws out of concern that those laws are unfair or overly harsh. Gardner earned national attention for trying to prosecute a St. Louis couple who responded with guns in hand to a protest outside their home.

Smith said that progressive prosecutors’ cities often see rising violent crime rates as a result of their new policies. He disagrees with the idea that there’s a mass incarceration problem, or that the criminal justice system is racist. He described how he would recognize successful prosecutors.

“If you’re looking for measurable success, we need to be honest about what the numbers are showing,” Smith said, “and what the prosecutors are going to do to combat the rising violent crime in their cities.”

“My office has a responsibility to work with our most impacted community members to understand the full extent of the harm caused by prosecutorial policies and practices,” Dehghani-Tafti said in the press release. “This exciting partnership with The Vera Institute will help address the historic impact of harmful policies on Black communities, and take us further in our efforts to transform the criminal legal system so that it works toward justice, instead of punishment.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]. Photo “Protest, 2019 by Brandan “BMike” Odums” by Vera Institute of Justice and “Parisa Dehghani-Tafti” is by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.


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