Justice Reform for Our Youth Offenders
1) Alternative Sentencing: Diversion Programs for Youthful Offenders:
Only the DA can decide which cases will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and which cases can be diverted from the court system giving the accused a second chance to keep a clean record.
Prosecuting our young people just to get a conviction is not a thoughtful or productive approach to criminal justice. It only serves to hinder that offender’s ability to go back to school or get a job and undoubtedly increases the chances that the individual will someday end up in jail.
As your DA, I would offer first-time non-violent youthful offenders an opportunity to keep their record clean by diverting their case out of the criminal justice system into a Diversion Program which would allow them to earn their way out of the court system. Their progress would be monitored by pre-trial probation officer at the court.
The Diversion Programs would offer a variety of ways to address and correct the youthful offenders misconduct. For example:
- Treatment for those who suffer from substance abuse;
- Community Service for those who have harmed their community by their actions;
Educational programs to address the alleged misconduct that stems from ignorance:
- After 6 months or 1 year, if the offender has successfully completed their terms of pre-trial probation, their case would be dismissed and there would be no criminal record.
If a young person is acting out in some way, they are usually trying to get our attention. A recent body of research stemming from the MIT Young Adult Development Project (http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html) confirms that the human brain is not fully developed until age 25 and that the portion of the brain that is not yet fully developed is the part of the brain that controls impulsivity and decision making. It only makes sense that the DA’s office should integrate this universally accepted truth into consideration when deciding how to prosecute our young non-violent people.
Specialty Courts for Veterans and those who suffer from Mental illness Our Veterans
I would work to co-create specialty courts for our veterans and those who suffer with mental illness.
We know how common it is for our veterans to return home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after enduring the brutality of war. We also know that even if a veteran is not suffering from PSTD, their wartime experiences leave permanent emotional scars. Finding and keeping a job is more challenging. Falling prey to addiction is not uncommon. However, these men and women have fought for our country and deserve our concentrated support that takes into account their specific needs.
The Mentally Ill
I would create a pathway to various resources and mental health professionals to work with those who suffer from mental illness and yet are accused of non-violent crimes and competent to stand trial. Neither the criminal justice system nor jail are any place for a non-violent individual with mental illness. A specialty court can help address the mental illness as well as the misconduct which caused the person to be arrested in the first place.
Use of Drugs and Alcohol
As your DA, I would work with the middle schools and high school to help educate the students on the dangers of using alcohol and drugs. I would do so in a manner that engages the student body. First, we need listen to the concerns of our young people of all color so we can truly reach them with this message.
Working with the educators, I would create an academic year-long class for the students to attend on the perils of drugs and alcohol use. Just coming into the schools to provide a one-day lecture on this weighty topic will not result in the changes we need.
Zero Tolerance for Guns:
Any student who brings a gun onto school grounds or threatens gun violence will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law which would include a psychiatric evaluation of that student for appropriate sentencing. In addition, I would work with law enforcement to find the source of the gun and prosecute that person as well.
Outreach Programs for Non-Violent Offenders
School administrators need better options to deal with a disruptive but non-violent student. By simply referring these young offenders to law enforcement only fuels the school-to-prison-pipeline that is disproportionately affecting people of color nationwide.
I would work with the community to develop outreach programs that are designed to address juvenile misconduct while working to keep the disruptive student in class whenever possible.
Prioritize the Prosecution of Violent Crime
I Will Prioritize the Prosecution of Violent Crimes Including Rape, Child-Abuse and Domestic Violent Crimes.
When I was prosecutor in Middlesex County, I spent an entire year working exclusively on prosecuting child (sex and physical) abuse cases in superior court and won the vast majority of these cases.
I know what it takes to successfully prosecute these difficult and important cases. In Middlesex County, we had a Child Abuse Unit which was a team of prosecutors, social workers and doctors who worked on the case together to provide the best support possible for the victims and their families. I would create the same type of team in Berkshire County.
Domestic Violence Unit
Too often, women and children who are victims of domestic abuse slip through the cracks only to return to their abuser. Similar to the Child Abuse Unit above, I would create a Domestic Violent Unit that specializes in the prosecution of domestic violence cases. This team would be specially trained in the needs of the domestic violence victims.
From the very start, I would assign a prosecutor to the case and that prosecutor would stay with the case all the way through.
Along with prosecutors, the team would consist of professionals who could offer social and mental health resources and temporary shelter when necessary. Many survivors of domestic and sexual violence do not report their trauma to authorities because of fear of their abuser, the power dynamics in play and concern for their financial security. However, when they do come forward, they deserve a safe space at the DA’s office where interviews can take place without re-traumatization and with the knowledge that the DA’s office will have a team to support the victims and get them through the court process and safe from their abuser.
Drug Forfeiture Funds
Each year the DA’s office and the police seize thousands of dollars from drug dealers and drug traffickers. The law that allows that these funds be seized dictates that the DA’s office and the police department shall split the proceeds 50/50. The law says that the funds shall be used to enhance law enforcement while encouraging the DA and police spend 10% on education and treatment.
Pittsfield Community Center
I will direct the maximum allowable under state law to crime prevention. of the funds seized from drug dealers, should be used by the DA to reduce and prevent crime. I would commit some of these funds to co-create a community youth center in Pittsfield. We must create a safe place for our under-resourced and low-income youth to go to an after school and at night to keep them off the streets. Providing community outreach programs like a community youth center is one step in reducing the school to prison pipeline.
More In-Patient Treatment for Addicts
A portion of the drug forfeiture funds should be spent to expand the available in-patient care for addicts. Too often the only option for an addict whose been convicted of a crime is to be sent to jail when what they really need is treatment. Treatment will give them the best chance of breaking free from the rotating door of the courthouse and of the jail.
Addressing Racial Bias
More Racial Diversity Among the Assistant District Attorneys
The attorneys and non-legal staff at the DA’s office should reflect the community they serve. I will commit to hiring more women and people of color. It is simply not right that most, if not all, of the assistant district attorneys are Caucasian while a disproportionate of individuals accused of crime are people of color.
The recently passed Crime Reform Bill mandates that all law enforcement must go through Implicit Bias training. I would require that all of assistant district attorneys go through the same Implicit Bias training that the Crime Reform Law requires police officers to complete. We can all benefit from this important education.