WHY DO DISTRICT ATTORNEYS MATTER?
Shelby County’s elected prosecutor, or District Attorney (DA), is the most powerful local elected official within our criminal legal system. The DA decides who goes to jail and for how long and whether to seek the death penalty. The DA should be a leader in efforts to make the legal system transparent and fair, should have the highest ethical standards, and should work to serve the whole community.
Tennesseans need district attorneys who will make our communities safer by:
- addressing the criminal legal system’s current racial disparities and applying the law equally across the board. No one should receive a harsher punishment because of one’s race or inability to afford a good lawyer.
- ensuring that those who break the law and cause harm, including police officers and politicians, will be held accountable and not be treated as “above the law.”
- treating kids like kids. The DA should seek treatment and trauma-informed care services rather than incarceration whenever possible to keep kids from getting too deeply involved in the system–making them less likely to reoffend and keeping our communities safer.
- focusing on accountability and seeking to repair the harm that has been done, rather than falling back on the draconian and ineffective policies of the past that have made our communities more dangerous. The DA should follow the lead of prosecutors nationwide by expanding diversion programs, which make us safer by reducing recidivism, save taxpayers money, keep more people out of our jails, and provide access to treatment for individuals who are addicted to drugs or who have mental illness.
The DA must address the real needs of crime victims and their families. The needs of crime victims and their families should be met with robust, culturally competent, community based, and broadly accessible victim services, including mental health treatment, peer counseling, relocation, replacement of lost wages, time off from work, funeral expenses, and more. Whenever possible, the DA should advocate for these services to be made available to all victims.
The DA must work to prevent violence before it occurs. There are innovative and proven strategies that help prevent violence before it occurs and offer healing after violence. These programs already exist in many places, and data shows they are effective. Black and Brown communities harmed by the justice system are leading these solutions to create safety, healing, and accountability that seeks to repair the harm for all.
The DA can support community-based violence intervention models (CBVI), which treat violence like a public health issue. They implement trauma-responsive techniques to identify and mediate potential conflicts before they arise, prevent retaliation, and/or provide high quality wrap-around services to those most at risk of committing future violence. They include street outreach workers, violence interrupters, and hospital-based services that help violence victims immediately.
These programs need support, and our DAs should institute policies to prioritize and strengthen them. Savings from ending expensive, punitive policies should be redirected to programs that address trauma, support victims’ family members, prevent violence before it occurs, and build true safety in communities.