Restorative Justice: A Chance to Earn a Clean Slate

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Philadelphia, PA- Many of the talking points in this election have revolved around the issue of Criminal Justice Reform. Repeatedly stated are claims that the criminal justice system as a whole is unfair. My opponent has made numerous claims alluding to possible non-enforcement or worse, selective enforcement, of multiple crimes should he be elected. As someone with over two decades of experience as a prosecutor I can personally attest to a strong need to reform, streamline, and modernize the system to make it more user friendly for the victims of crime, suspects, and those paid by taxpayers to administer justice in an efficient and effective manner.

One of the best avenues to be explored in the arena of criminal justice reform is Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is a framework which has been proposed as an alternative to the current way of thinking about crime and criminal justice. It gives priority to repairing the harm done to victims and communities, while emphasizing offender accountability, where the offender takes responsibility and action to repair harm. Some organizations in Philadelphia, like the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, currently utilize this framework with positive results. For example, 84% of participants in their Restorative Justice Program are not incarcerated again within a year of completing the program.

Instead of simply declaring the enforcement of certain crimes “unfair” and neglecting one’s sworn duty to the public, it is more appropriate for a District Attorney’s Office to explore alternatives which help to make victims whole while initiating a corrections process that doesn’t just punish offenders but gives them an opportunity to turn their lives around, earn a clean slate after demonstrating their rehabilitation, and have the community involved in their re-entry into society.

The National Institutes of Justice defines authentic restorative justice as a continuum that includes underlying principles, basic tenets, general public policies, and specific practices, programs and procedures. In order to accomplish this, the practitioner needs a sound, comprehensive understanding of all the relationships affected by crime and recognize that the criminal justice system must focus on the full circle of injuries, needs and responsibilities of crime victims, the community, government, and offenders.

Therefore, as your District Attorney, I would approach the issue of Criminal Justice Reform by first recognizing that you can’t arrest yourself out of a cycle of crime that is heavily contributed to by a struggling local economy and under-performing education system.

At the same time, it is the sworn duty of the District Attorney to enforce the laws of the land, advocate for the victims of crime, and assure that criminality does not have the opportunity to continue to threaten the safety of our communities.

I take my campaign for District Attorney seriously and have been seeking out best practices nationally to examine how they may be effective in Philadelphia. In doing so, I met with Gen. Sid Baumgarten, the former Deputy Mayor of New York, who helped America’s biggest city address the first major heroin epidemic of the 1970’s. I met with Sid because he sits on the board of New York Therapeutic Communities, and he showed me how their long-term treatment process, coupled with job training, employment, and support for community reentry has a proven 77% success rate based upon a five-year follow-up study in rehabilitating those suffering from addiction who have come in contact with the criminal justice system. In working with our courts, public health, and correctional stakeholders, it is clear we should further explore this alternative to short-term incarceration and lifelong criminal records for those affected by this crisis.

At the same time, I have been lucky to engage policy advisers who have studied law enforcement communities in states like Washington, Florida, Texas and the DC metro areas. By working with courts, instead of simply “doing away” with bail, we can create a surety system similar to many other cities, some larger than Philadelphia, yet with less crime. In those cities suspects can post bail at a small percentage of the total, but are incentivized to return to their court appearances. Furthermore, the use of technology to merge law enforcement databases with courts and corrections is long overdue. Doing so will enable the officers on the street  to monitor conditions of release easily. By using technology and streamlining the processes between law enforcement agencies, the DA’s Office, and the Courts, the arrest-to-trial process can be streamlined, putting more officers on the street instead of spending hours on paperwork or waiting in the halls at the Criminal Justice Center.

I have the experience to know that if you don’t address criminal behavior when it’s still minor; there’s a strong possibility that the offender will graduate to more serious crimes. Any candidate for public office, from District Attorney to Mayor, who feels that laws they don’t agree with should simply be ignored are not only doing a disservice to the taxpayers who entrust them with their public safety, but they are also doing a disservice to those offenders that can be rehabilitated before they possibly commit crimes that are too major to participate in restorative justice efforts.

As District Attorney, I will work closely with state legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties, as I have maintained strong relationships with both parties, to explore ways to restore someone’s civil rights after they have demonstrated rehabilitation. In looking at Florida’s restoration of Civil Rights and New York’s Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities/Certificate of Good Conduct process, and in the over 20 diversion programs currently in use in the Philadelphia DA’s office, there are demonstrated best practices out there to clear one’s record and restore their civil rights after they have paid their debt to society. This satisfies the responsibility to crime victims while also giving offenders an opportunity at a clean slate.

My opponent and his supporters seem to believe that criminal justice reform can be accomplished by simply giving certain crimes a pass, but my years of experience have taught me that crimes cannot be processed as if from a silo. Every crime needs to be addressed individually, in the best interest of the victim, the community, and even the offender. My plan will hold criminals responsible for their crimes, while allowing the 70-100 million Americans living with a criminal record the opportunity to demonstrate their rehabilitation and get a chance at a clean slate without the costly, highly political process associated with applying for expungement.

These ideas come from experience and collaboration with seasoned professionals, not funders seeking to make a social experiment out of public safety. Experience matters, which is why I’m asking for your vote.