Should county be allowed to banish criminals?

LUNENBURG COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) – If you live in rural Lunenburg County, you know about its peaceful setting and historic past. But a new battle is brewing on an old practice — banishing criminals from the county.

Lunenburg’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently passed a resolution banning the practice.

“Here we have real people, flesh and blood, who can’t return home because one person has said you can’t come back to this county for whatever amount of years he decides,” Eileen Moorman, President of the Lunenburg NAACP chapter said.

For three decades, criminals have been banned from Lunenburg County, for up to five years, as part of a plea agreement.

The NAACP said the criminals accept plea agreements negotiated between the prosecutor and the defense attorney.

“The condition will say, in essence, I agree to stay out of Lunenburg County for five years in exchange for a lesser sentence or reduced charges or fewer convictions,” Robert Clement, Lunenburg Commonwealth’s attorney said.

Robert Clement says it’s strictly voluntary and a way to keep repeat offenders out of the county.

“Particularly, an outsider who’s come over into our county and committed the crime selling drugs or committing violent acts.  It would be nice if we could say, hey, stay away for a while.  And leave us alone,” said Clement.

Clements says his office has never prosecuted anyone for just violating that condition.

“I have had people ask for it.  I’ve had defendants.  I’ve had people in jail write me letters.  And say, hey, I’d like to get back in court.  If you reduce my sentence, I’ll agree to stay out of Lunenburg for five years,” said Clement.

But people we spoke with have mixed feelings.

“I think it’s wrong, because I feel if from this county and you’re banned from it, you’re just going to another county and be the problem there and cause mayhem,” Brunswick county resident Ruth Corum said.

“It’s going to make them realize, you can’t do this anymore, you’ve got to stop.  And so, if that’s what it takes, so be it,” Lunenburg resident Ashley Moore said.

The Commonwealth’s attorney says the banishment condition in the plea agreement is only done on a case by case basis.

But the ACLU of Virginia is raising some serious concerns over the use of banishment as a criminal sanction.

In a statement to CBS 6, it says in part, “Suspended sentences and probation usually are structured to serve the goal of rehabilitation.  Making someone leave his or her community to escape going to jail threatens rather than serves the goal of rehabilitation.  Moreover, it does nothing to promote public safety, if that’s an issue, because the person simply goes somewhere else where he/she isn’t known.  Puritans did use exile and banishment to punish unwanted behavior in the earliest years of our country, but such sanctions have no place in our current time when we should be using only evidence-based practices in our criminal justice system,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, Executive Director of ACLU of Virginia.

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