There are many actors involved in the criminal justice system. How would you describe your role in that system? Are there opportunities for you to collaborate with other agencies in the system and if so, how would you achieve that?
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A judge’s role is to ensure that the legal process is properly followed and that the defendant’s Constitutional rights are not violated. Judicial officers are to be gatekeepers and are responsible for balancing the rights of the defendant, the victim, and the community. A judicial officer should consider disparities and income inequality as they make rulings in regard to conditions of release and sentencing.
A judicial officer must partner with the Department of Public Defense, the City Attorney’s Office, and the private defense bar to stand up meaningful diversion and alternative courts. I believe there are many opportunities for the court to also collaborate with other city departments and even outside agencies. The court is the most siloed branch of government and I believe there are many instances where the court can better partner with other government departments like the Human Services Department. By partnering with internal city agencies, the court may be able to build a pipeline to housing and employment. Also, I believe there are opportunities to engage with outside businesses and organizations that want to work in strengthening communities.
Although judges have enormous power over individuals appearing in their court, there are many structural and community issues that judges cannot change without working with community and governmental partners. The focus of my work over the past 8 years has been to break down silos and work together with government and community partners to improve outcomes in the criminal justice system. Historically, the lack of teamwork between governmental and community interests has had real world impacts that disproportionately affect certain communities.
The downtown business core, including the Westlake shopping district and Pioneer Square, is one such community that has been forced to bear a disproportionate share of criminal behavior. A combination of factors, including the pandemic, the opioid epidemic, the concentration of services downtown, and the slow response of government to fix problems until they have spiraled out of control have only served to exacerbate this problem. Certain areas, like portions 3rd Avenue, have become all but impossible to run a business.
It is my abiding belief that no community should have to bear this sort of disproportionate burden, especially a community as important as our downtown business core. The question, therefore, becomes: How do we improve the situation?
We know what has not worked: ignoring the problem until it spirals out of control or taking a “lock ‘em all up” approach which invariably results in releasing many individuals back onto the street in a more destabilized condition than when they entered the jail. We cannot eliminate social services downtown, and it is also difficult to remove an individual from the area where they are receiving services. The answer in the criminal justice system therefore must be a careful balance of accountability and rehabilitation.
We must advocate for real-world solutions like substance use and mental health inpatient and outpatient treatment on demand, housing with wrap around services on demand, and perhaps a secure facility that allows individuals to address their exigent problems in a safe environment that does not endanger the rest of the community.
I would like to describe a few concrete examples of this work. I have worked with the jail to make sure people with mental health issues receive their mental health medications during their stay in jail and that they are given a supply of the medications after they are released. I have also encouraged defendants held in jail to take advantage of the jail’s Suboxone induction program, exposing opioid addicts to this life saving treatment. I have expanded Mental Health Court to build better structured release plans to more carefully monitor dangerous, mentally ill individuals before they are released onto the street. I have expanded and deepened collaborations with social safety net programs through our “Court Resource Center” to better connect defendants with services on the first day they come to court. All of my programs serve the same goal: get at the root of criminal behavior so we can reduce crime and make the community safer.
I would look forward to feedback from DSA members and would be eager to partner with the organization on how to better address these difficult cases.