ABOVE: John Childrey makes a point.
Chesterfield County voters will choose a new commonwealth’s attorney on Nov. 6.
Republican John Childrey and Democrat Scott Miles squared off in a debate Oct. 17 at First Baptist Church, 6201 Iron Bridge Road.
Childrey touted his 20 years of experience with the Chesterfield commonwealth attorney’s office. In his closing statement, he criticized Miles for wanting to lead a department for which he had never previously even applied for a job. “I applaud his compassion, but he sounds more like a defense attorney arguing for a client,” Childrey said.
Miles, who lives in the Dale district, said he wants to provide new leadership for the office. “What they are missing is leadership and best practices,” he said. Miles said he wasn’t going after the 27 or so attorneys who work in the office. If elected, he is willing to retain them “if they’re willing to prosecute in a way that serves our community.”
Miles, a defense attorney, said he previously worked in Richmond as a prosecutor and public defender, and has been in private practice the last nine years doing “mostly criminal police work.”
He said Chesterfield doesn’t use “best practices” that have been adopted by Richmond and Henrico County, and said the commonwealth’s attorney can divert persons charged or convicted to community-based treatment. If elected, he said he would lobby the board of supervisors for more funding for treatment options.
Miles spoke against “mass incarceration” and said that three-quarters of the some 1,100 people held in the county jail each day have been charged with non-violent crimes.
“There needs to be a ‘stick’ for people to be motivated to clean up,” Childrey said, referring to punishment. “A person is there because the person made choices. There are laws on the books passed by the General Assembly.”
Miles said he wants to prosecute people who have allegedly committed non-violent crimes with misdemeanors instead of felonies and not incarcerate them because it costs $128 a day to house an inmate in the jail and $46,720 a year. He called this “inhumane and a waste of resources.”
A woman asked Childrey if the commonwealth attorney’s office ever reduced a charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. “I amend felonies to misdemeanors frequently,” said Childrey, who is the office’s chief deputy. If elected, he said he would defer to the experience and expertise of the prosecuting attorneys.
Miles implied that he would give these attorneys less discretion, and said they would be expected to follow his policies.
It costs $135 a week to house someone in a recovery house, Miles said, and added that he would lobby the supervisors to fund more. Chesterfield has two sober living houses, Miles said.
Miles’ campaign manager, Danielle Matie Smith, accused Childrey of “toeing the line from the 1960s and 1980s … You ignore data and facts that support criminal justice reform,” she said.
Childrey said that only five juveniles have been charged as adults this year in Chesterfield, and these cases involved two rapes, an aggravated malicious wounding in a shooting, forcible sodomy and a person who keeps assaulting juvenile detention guards.
Children said that Miles should run for the state Senate or House if he wants the laws changed. “My job is to enforce the laws that are on the books,” Childrey said. He said that Miles’ promises regarding reducing charges and non-incarceration are dangerous.
Citing the example of Stephanie Morales, commonwealth’s attorney in Portsmouth, Miles said he wants to focus on prevention on the front end and restoration of rights on the back end.
A woman asked Childrey about his opinion on restorative justice for juveniles, but he wasn’t familiar with it. The concept involves having the offender face the victim and “make it right,” the woman said.
Childrey said he favors expanding the use of school resource officers in elementary schools. He also cited the example of Mark Bowen, a retired SRO who is a part-time mentor at Bellwood Elementary.
Childrey said the average commonwealth’s attorney in Chesterfield has three times more experience than Miles.
“Even experienced prosecutors need policies and leadership,” Miles said in response, adding that government needs “checks and balances.”
If someone isn’t a threat to society, that person should not be held on bail in the jail before the case is adjudicated, he said.
“Most folks who get convicted don’t get any time,” Childrey said. “Despite some of Scott Miles’ statements, every decision isn’t made by the prosecutor. We are part of the system. We don’t ensure the outcome.”
Whoever wins the election will take office shortly thereafter, replacing interim commonwealth’s attorney Kenneth E. Nickels, who replaced Billy Davenport when he resigned July 1. The candidate elected to the position will serve the remaining year or so of Davenport’s term, with another election to follow in November 2019 for a four-year term.