May 1 (UPI) -- Looking to mend fences with disgruntled black constituents after a scandal in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday he's rejecting two criminal justice bills he says will only add to racial disparities in his state.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post, he said he plans to veto two bills this week that call for mandatory minimum sentences.
"Mandatory minimum are focused on punishment, not rehabilitation," he wrote. "I have declared May to be Second Chance Month in Virginia, to increase the focus on ways we can make our criminal justice system fairer and more equitable."
"Data do not indicate that mandatory minimum sentences keep our communities safer," he added. "Instead, mandatory minimums are disproportionately harming people and communities of color."
"According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an agency of the federal judicial branch, black offenders are more likely to be convicted of an offense that carries a mandatory mimimum sentence than individuals of other races," Northam wrote. "The commission's findings echo other literature on the racial disparities in sentencing."
"We must remember that punishment and justice are not always the same thing," Northam continued. " We are better as a society when we give our judicial system the ability to discern the difference."
To date, Virginia has more than 200 mandatory minimum laws on the books, including one Northam signed this legislative session that mandates a life sentence for anyone who kills a police officer.
In an attempt to smooth over the negative reaction, the governor had planned a "reconciliation tour" in Virginia -- but students at the first stop, historically black Virginia Union University, opposed Northam's gesture and forced him to cancel his visit.
A number of Democrats and Republicans have called for Northam's resignation, but he's declined the calls.