What is Criminal Justice Reform?

Criminal justice reform has many different meanings. For some it involves reducing incarceration through various diversion programs. For others, it may involve data-driven policy changes to ensure the justice system is truly fair for all. We believe in a fair and equitable system that does not discriminate based on race or socioeconomic status. In order to make this goal the reality of our local justice system, we have implemented various policies and programs, some of which can be found below.


Diversion is defined as programs that implement strategies seeking to avoid the formal prosecution of an offender by the criminal justice system. Many people caught up in the criminal legal system have underlying problems of mental health or drug addiction. These problems may be solved better with treatment than incarceration. The Commonwealth Attorney's Office is committed to finding the best solutions to advance safety and justice at the lowest possible cost. The Heart of Safety program explores alternatives to prosecution for certain misdemeanor and felony cases committed by juveniles and young adults. Diversion also includes our Drug Courts, Behavioral Health Docket, and restorative justice program.


Pretrial Justice

The historical purpose of bail is to ensure that people accused of crime return to court to face their accusations. But cash bail often means that people with money can go free and people without money languish in jail, risking their jobs, their housing and their families. The Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney, under Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, is reforming the pretrial system so people who present a serious risk of flight or danger to the community will be held regardless of their ability to pay, and people charged with lesser offenses and assessed as lower risk will be released under conditions such as monitoring and check-ins.



Data is critical to understand how the justice system operates and how it affects the people it serves. In 2021 the Commonwealth Attorney's Office obtained grants to update its data management systems. Data can be analyzed to show historical trends and to inform future decisions about charging, plea bargaining and sentencing. Data will be used to reduce racial disparities and improve coordination among the metro area jurisdictions.


Drug Courts and the Behavioral Health Docket

Drug courts use the justice system as incentive to reduce personal dependence on controlled substances, and a structure of supervision to make success more likely. Commonwealth's Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti is working to expand Arlington’s modest drug court. She has also developed a Behavioral Health Docket for individuals charged with misdemeanors or felonies who are suffering from serious mental illness, developmental disability or dually diagnosed if they voluntarily agree to participate in court supervised treatment and community support. The docket is designed to serve Arlington County residents and Arlington homeless involved in the Arlington General District Court.


Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is an ancient concept but a new idea in the American criminal legal system. The fundamental idea is that crime is more than simply breaking the law: it harms people, relationships, and the community.  Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harms created by criminal behavior through acceptance of responsibility. Studies have found that rates of recidivism and victim satisfaction are increased with the use of restorative techniques. The Commonwealth Attorney's Office is working with Restorative Arlington on the implementation of new uses for restorative justice in Arlington.