The longstanding practice of overcharging has to end. Charging citizens with multiple crimes in the beginning to secure guilty pleas at the end of the process is an abuse of power, and calls into question the integrity of our system. Through this practice, thousands of non-violent, low-level citizens are funneled into the system, often times through insufficient and or unreliable evidence. These cases slow down our entire criminal justice system, it fuels mass incarceration, and the focus on dangerous and violent offenders becomes lost. Additionally, prosecutors become more concerned with securing convictions as opposed to actually achieving justice. As your District Attorney, I will only pursue cases that are supported by competent and reliable evidence.
Provide Treatment Instead of Incarceration
We need to end the disastrous War on Drugs. Many of the citizens that enter our criminal justice system are suffering from addiction, mental illness and/or poverty. Substance abuse and addiction are plaguing our prisons and our jail, alongside untreated mental health diagnoses. Our citizens that are struggling with these issues are being punished and not treated. Prosecution is and will always be a dysfunctional and nonresponsive method of addressing these issues. The real solution is a strategic approach towards holistic treatment, through effective and preventive community-based treatment services and advocating for appropriate funding to implement such solutions, including safe injection or safe use sites, needle exchanges, and other necessary and effective public health measures.
Implement Early Diversion
Our mentally ill citizens are often thrust into the criminal justice system when their conditions are untreated and they engage in activity that would have been avoided if they had been properly medicated and treated. In these instances, we will look for alternatives to incarceration through close partnerships with social services and health care systems.
The same holds true for our citizens that suffer from addiction. Addiction is a public health issue. We should learn from our failures with the last public health issue: the crack cocaine epidemic. We cannot prosecute our way through either of these issues. It is medically irresponsible, creates more problems, and it doesn’t improve public safety. The ultimate goal and objective is to prevent as many of our citizens as possible from entering the system on the front end, whenever appropriate.
Reform Cash Bail
The use of Cash Bail is essentially criminalizing poverty. In this country, we are clothed under the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Unfortunately, many of the people held in the Allegheny County Jail have not been convicted – they simply cannot afford to pay the bond that has been assessed. On the flip side, wealthy individuals who are charged with the same offense are able to buy their freedom. In essence, these individuals are guilty until proven wealthy. While statistics collected by the County prove that money bail has no correlation between the bail assessed and probability that an individual will appear for court, this practice continues with the financial burden passed along to the taxpayers. It costs approximately $80.00 per/day to house citizens in the Allegheny County Jail. As the District Attorney, I will focus on the detention of the dangerous and violent offenders, those that are flight risks and those that pose a clear and present danger to the community at large. For the non-violent offenders, I will look at more cost efficient alternatives, such as Electronic Home Monitoring and Court Ordered check-ins with Pre-Trial Services.
Implement Restorative Justice Processes
Victims are often left out of the process. There is no justice without transparency for all parties involved. Victims, particularly those of violence, need to be heard and respected.
Restorative justice is a community-based approach to responding to the harm that crime causes. In a group setting, individuals facing charges talk to the people they hurt, sharing stories and working toward accountability, repair, and rehabilitation. Restorative practices can be part of the criminal court process or a substitute for it. Research shows that crime victims often do not feel that prosecution and sentencing serve them well; restorative justice can help address their concerns. These programs also have a consistent track record of achieving lower rates of recidivism than traditional penalties, including for serious offenses, and will be given strong consideration in the instances in which the victims are amenable.
End the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Juvenile Justice Reform is a top priority. The school to prison pipeline cannot continue to destroy the futures of our young people. Statistics have shown that the earlier a child is exposed to the criminal justice system, the odds are greatly enhanced that they will pass into the adult system. And in Allegheny County in 2016 and 2017 more than 80 percent of those children charged as adults by the Allegheny County District Attorney were Black. It is imperative for the District Attorney to coordinate with all of the stakeholders within the system to curve this alarming trend. Behavior that is common amongst young adolescents is too often criminalized in the school setting. Consequently, many juveniles are saddled down with felony adjudications for incidents that could have easily be diverted by other means outside of the juvenile justice system. Restorative Justice initiatives will be favored and encouraged in cases involving juveniles. We must treat kids like kids.
Launch Conviction Integrity Unit
Without exception, all exculpatory evidence (evidence that is favorable and that exonerates or tends to exonerate) will be turned over to the defense. It is a travesty of justice for anyone to be charged and convicted of a crime that he or she did not commit. For that reason, it is important to review all cases in which there is a bona fide claim of innocence, whether by error or misconduct through law enforcement. I will create a Conviction Integrity Unit to be staffed by both attorneys and investigators, and will work closely with outside organizations to ensure fairness and transparency. To eliminate an appearance of impropriety, the attorneys and investigators will only work in this unit.
Become Smart on Crime
Being “tough on crime” has failed, miserably. Too much time and too many resources are spent on pursuing low-level, non-violent offenses. Most of these cases are the direct result of addiction, mental illness and poverty. As a result, many of the more serious cases aren’t given the proper time and attention, resulting in decreased conviction rates, and violent offenders returning to the community. The focus should be on violent and dangerous crime. As your District Attorney, I will focus and devote resources on crimes that target our children, our elderly, human trafficking, gun violence, sex crimes, and murder. We all want to be safe, and those that jeopardize our freedom will be held accountable and must answer for the consequence of their actions.
Decriminalize Cannabis Possession
Prosecuting the majority of marijuana possession cases is a drain on law enforcement resources, and prosecutor resources. A majority of these cases are resolved in the early stages of the criminal justice process with fines and/or community service. Prosecuting these cases do not make the community any safer, and they clog the system.
Incorporate Community Input
As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer, my office will be proactive and engaged in the community. The citizens of Allegheny County will have the opportunity to engage the office outside of the criminal justice process. We will be present in the schools to warn our young people about the dangers of drugs and addiction while in the midst of this deadly opioid epidemic. We will also promote efforts to educate children on their rights when dealing with police. We will create satellite offices and engage in community outreach so that our office will have a greater physical presence amongst our citizens. We will also hold quarterly meetings throughout Allegheny County for citizens to come and voice their concerns. As the District Attorney, everybody’s voice matters, and everybody will have an opportunity to be heard.
Improve Law Enforcement and Community Relations
Allegheny County is comprised of a variety of diverse communities that demand different needs; however, the one fundamental fact that crosses all jurisdictional lines is that we must support law enforcement. We should all feel safe in our communities, and safe amongst those responsible for protecting us. Prosecutors and police cannot serve or effectuate fairness without the support and input from the communities they serve. Law enforcement must be provided with training that affords them the tools and resources necessary to begin building relationships that stem from connections outside of and prior to any criminal encounters. Citizens should know the police in their community and be able to have impactful relationships and effective communications. Community policing makes us better together as one county.
Reform Civil Forfeiture
Civil forfeiture power affords the District Attorney the ability to seize and keep the assets of any citizen both charged with a crime, or suspected of criminal conduct. This practice is unjust. As your District Attorney, assets will only be seized in the event criminal conduct is admitted or a finding of guilt. Unlike the current administration, in these instances, I will be transparent in how any forfeited assets are used by my office and release data to the general public.
Use Prosecutorial Discretion Wisely
Under the current administration, there are blanket policies for certain offenses, regardless of the individual facts and circumstances surrounding the citizen that is charged. Any mitigating circumstances (i.e. student status, medical conditions, lack of criminal history, employment status) are often ignored without any regard to their individual status. As the District Attorney, I will afford the prosecutors in the office the prosecutorial discretion to resolve matters on a case-by-case basis, taking all factors into consideration. The prosecutors in my office will treat people like people, not dockets.
Provide Adequate Training
All prosecutors will be trained to view cases with an eye for humanity and not simply securing convictions. My staff will be better trained to have a more in-depth understanding of the issues of the people that are entering the system, as well as the collateral consequences that will result in a criminal conviction. There will be mandatory training specific to implicit bias, anti-racism, and serving the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities. Ongoing professional development is imperative for all existing and future employees. Due to the gravity of the position and the power it has on the lives of the citizens of Allegheny County, the prosecutors must have a thorough understanding and knowledge of equity, intersectionality, social identities and diversity.
Demand Police Accountability
No citizen, regardless of profession, is above the law. A Police Officer engaging in criminal behavior, on or off duty, is not an exception to the rule. The vast majority of police are professionals who respect the rights of the public, and conduct themselves with fidelity. But just like any profession, there are those that fall short of that standard, and abuse their authority. This group of officers undermines our system, and places the community and fellow officers alike, in great peril. Complaints and allegations of Police Officer misconduct will be tracked and monitored. Criminal conduct by law enforcement will not be tolerated under my administration.
Address Racial and Gender Disparities
I will track and release race and gender data for actions including bail requests, charging juveniles as adults, other charging decisions, plea bargains, and sentencing recommendations. I will permit and encourage outside sources in the community to review the data, evaluate disparities, and make recommendations to reduce them.
Establish Proper Data Collection Practices
The focus of the District Attorney’s Office should be on those that threaten our safety and peace within our neighborhoods. Keeping score of conviction rates and being tough on crime has failed us. I will create a data-driven, restorative model of justice, that seeks alternatives to incarceration.
Tackle Fraud and Public Corruption
Fraud and Public Corruption are thefts at the highest level of government, and undermines the people’s faith in the government and the people tasked with running it. In many instances where there is such an allegation, the voices of the citizens are ignored or are not given due consideration. As the District Attorney, I will fully investigate allegations of fraud and public corruption, and hold those that are guilty accountable for their acts of deception and theft.
Protect Our Immigrant Neighbors
In the midst of an unrelenting and cruel campaign of detention and deportation of immigrants it is vital for all public officials to act in solidarity with the immigrant community and commit to policies that protect their rights and humanity. As your District Attorney I will not cooperate with ICE and all prosecutors in our office will be trained in understanding the collateral consequences of criminal prosecutions of immigrants so that charging decisions, including when diversion is most appropriate, will be made in a way that prioritizes keeping families together.
Decriminalize Sex Work
Using police and prosecutorial resources to criminalize sex workers is not sound criminal justice or public health policy. Sex workers who are policed and jailed are exposed to greater risks, stigma, and punishment that serves no public benefit while causing serious harm. In recent years law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office in Allegheny County have even prosecuted sex workers for possessing condoms and cell phones, claiming these are instruments of crime. These policies make a mockery of the criminal justice system and will be immediately and permanently stopped in my administration. I am committed to working with advocates for the rights of sex workers to ensure their community is respected and protected when I am district attorney.