Arlington prosecutor widens justice reform program with help from federal grant

The top prosecutor in Arlington County, Virginia, will use a $340,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to expand a justice reform program, with the goal of finding alternative ways to ensure justice outside the criminal justice system.

In a statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and Falls Church Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said the grant — the largest amount awarded in the program — will allow her office to hire a social worker and a data analyst.

“It’s a game-changer,” Dehghani-Tafti said, since crimes committed in Arlington County are often by people who live in neighboring jurisdictions.

“It allows us to develop partnerships with diversion programs across the metro area, for the first time, both in service of developing opportunities and reducing recidivism, incarceration, and racial disparities.”

Dehghani-Tafti was elected in 2019, calling for a less punitive criminal justice system.

Arlington County launched the county-wide Restorative Arlington program in 2020, with the hope the community can find ways to handle conflict, and that a person who has caused harm can make amends outside the criminal justice system.

The two positions funded by the grant will work within the restorative justice program.

“They will support the training of facilitators for restorative practices,” engage with other programs, “and analyze the differences in outcomes related to race and other factors in order to close disparities,” according to the statement.

The grant will also fund software to support data a performance measure needs.

Dehghani-Tafti has said data can help in making “evidence-based” prosecution and diversion decisions.

The statement from the prosecutor’s office includes support from the Arlington Branch NAACP, Black Parents of Arlington and Restorative Arlington.

Not everyone supports Dehghani-Tafti’s vision of justice reform.

A group Virginians for Safe Communities is gathering petitions to “recall rogue prosecutors,” including Fairfax County prosecutor Steve Descano and Loudoun County Commonwealths’ Attorney Buta Biberaj, all first-term progressive Democrats promising reform.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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