By Randy Singleton
Community Affairs Correspondent
New Journal and Guide
Congressman Bobby Scott-3rd District, held a town hall meeting on criminal justice reform at the Murray Center in Norfolk on Tuesday(Aug. 8). Over one hundred people packed a meeting room in the facility to listen to a panel of law enforcement officials, judges, and criminal justice experts.
Scott and the panel discussed how the criminal justice system has destroyed the lives of many ex-felons, making them susceptible to the revolving door of re-incarceration and release. They discussed how many communities have been devastated by high incarceration rates of its young men for minor drug offenses or non-violent criminal acts. They also called for the federal government and the states to reform their drug-sentencing laws.
Congressman Scott and the panel took questions from the audience. Many of those who lined up to speak were community activists, relatives of incarcerated people, and ex-felons seeking help in expunging convictions from their records and improving their lives.
Portsmouth resident Chantrell Simmons explained how she has had to go on public assistance because she has been unable to find work due to a felony conviction 20 years ago, despite having a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Shaw University.
Simmons explained that she had been romantically involved with a drug dealing boyfriend and got caught up in the criminal justice system due to his activities.
Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan and others offered assistance to Simmons.
Rick James, chairman of the Legal Redress Committee of the Norfolk NAACP asked about criminal justice reform as it relates to the case of Travion Blunt, the 17 year-old Norfolk teen who robbed a party with two friends and received 118 year prison term.
Congressman Scott discussed a key piece of legislation he is sponsoring, H.R. 2944-The Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act which takes a broad-based approach to improving the federal sentencing and corrections system. The bill has garnered 40 co-sponsors evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.