A look at the District Attorney race

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SUMMER STEPHAN – INCUMBANT

Describe the role of the District Attorney.

“The primary responsibility is actually in the code and the statutes. You’re the people’s prosecutor. It means you collaborate with the nine police chiefs and sheriffs with the primary goal is making sure the community is save. You protect victims and protect the rights of the accused.”

SUMMER STEPHAN – INCUMBANT

Describe the role of the District Attorney.

“The primary responsibility is actually in the code and the statutes. You’re the people’s prosecutor. It means you collaborate with the nine police chiefs and sheriffs with the primary goal is making sure the community is save. You protect victims and protect the rights of the accused.”

What are your thoughts on the school-to-prison pipeline and what do you think the county needs to do to dismantle it? In the same vein, how do we reduce mass incarceration?

“San Diego County, and myself as one of the leaders in public safety for 28 years and five years before I became the district attorney as the deputy district attorney, my primary responsibility was to lower and work towards dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.”

“We know that incarceration of juveniles can derail their future and set them on a path where they view themselves as criminals. We know that it’s hard, once you incarcerate juveniles, for them so see themselves as a valuable member of society.”

“Our county is very evidenced based. We measure everything, we don’t like to just talk. Talk is cheap and slogans are cheap, we wanted to measure our progress. Over a five year periods 12-17, we were able to lower juvenile incarceration by 49 percent. That’s almost half. Based on that, we closed down a whole juvenile custody facility. At the same time, we looked at how that translated to at risk youths committing more crimes. And we were able show that we did it safely and responsibly.”

“We were able to bring in increased mental health services to support young people so they can address depression, anxiety and other serious illnesses that can increase their at risk behaviors.”

“San Diego is the second lowest county, under my leadership, that caused any minors to be treated as adults.”

“San Diego has been a forward thinking region for a long, long time. We were the only county that implemented a reentry program to allow folks to not keep going through the revolving door but to give them a hand up.”

What are your thoughts on racial profiling during traffic stops and how do you think we should approach racial disparities in our justice system?

“Any sort of inequality is very destructive to justice. Justice absolutely needs to be equal. Being the daughter of immigrants and my grandmother as a little girl having her whole family subjected to Romanian genocide, it matters to me a lot that people are treated with absolute equality and any injustice harms our entire system. It is something I am really committed to in my soul and spirit because of my own upbringing.”

“We have to recognize that there is prejudice. We have to continually fight against prejudice and injustice, and be extra careful and put in place systems that will work towards eliminating those practices.”

“For me, I think it’s very important that I start with my own agency and make sure that, as a leader, I set the example and priority of eliminating bias and injustice.

“This is why one of the very first mandated trainings I brought to our offices was a training on unconscious bias. I also reinforced our hate crimes division, appointing a man who was subjected in his own family upbringing to prejudice, who was going to be more sensitive and more committed to prosecuting hate crimes.”

Especially in East County, homelessness is a critical issue that involves the safety and wellbeing of the community as a whole. What do you think the best methods are to curtail chronic homelessness?

“I’m very engaged in the homeless issue. I spend a lot of time visiting people at our homeless shelters and talking with them about where the gaps are. It’s really terrible from a human perspective to see someone who is so down and out without a roof over their heads and doesn’t have the hope that a member of our community is entitled to.”

“As a leader, I am moved to action. Although homelessness itself isn’t directly in the lane of the district attorney, but where we can provide and be a bridge and be a solution builder…I have the capacity to be an aggressive problem solver. 

“So we’ve begun down the line of bringing about innovative solutions to this problem. One thing has been to see and hear their stories and there are 200-300 women and children in shelters who do not have a permanent place to call home. It is just not a way that children should ever grow up in a civilized society.” 

What are your priorities for the DA?

“I look at issues of sex trafficking because we’ve got on an average 5,000 victims of sex trafficking annually and on average age those victims is 16-years-old and that breaks my heart because you should never have a 16 year old being sold like a piece of pizza.”

“We’re leading the country in how we collaborate with our community in prevention, prosecution, protection and partnerships to bring awareness and to educate hotels and motels, because that’s where are kids are being sold into prostitution.”

“While we’re the safest urban county in America at a 49-year low in crime, that is not by accident. We have some of the best trained agencies and communities where we work with all our partners to reduce crime. But we’re seeing an increase in our crimes against seniors. So one big initiative for me is bringing together all our stakeholders to reduce crimes against seniors.

“We’re also attacking the opioid epidemic and for the first time I wrote a law that protects consumers by accurately labeling opioid products to let kids’ parents and adults know that it’s addictive and can cause overdose.”

GENEVIEVE JONES-WRIGHT – CHALLENGER

Describe the role of the District Attorney.

“The DA has the discretion to determine who is going to be charged with what crimes, when, how and even why individuals are going to be charged, and on the other side, the DA has full power as to who will not be charged with crimes.” 

What are your thoughts on the school-to-prison pipeline and what do you think the county needs to do to dismantle it? In the same vein, how do we reduce mass incarceration?

“I really do feel that both of those go hand in hand when we’re talking about the solution. The first thing is for us to understand is that mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline affects more than just the person, it affects the family and the community. We have to understand that we have been going in the wrong direction and we need to completely disrupt the school to prison pipeline.”

“We have adopted policies and practices that have begun the institutionalization of our children. We’re seeing disciplinary action that should have come come an administrator on school grounds, we have now started pushing students towards our criminal justice system. This is the pipeline that we’ve created.”

“We have to understand that we’ve lost our way when we prioritize incarceration over education.” 

“What we know is that a lot of students who have behavioral issues or who may have been abused at home or they have a history of poverty or neglect, what these children need are additional services and help. I would like to expand opportunities to look at issue holistically.”

“I talk about restorative justice a lot. I’m a big proponent of restorative justice and I really believe that’s a real solution, not just for the school to prison pipeline with our children, but with the adults in the system as well. We move away from ‘what is wrong with you’ and ask our children ‘what happened to you’ and we really get to the root of behavioral issues and what got them in the principal’s office and then into a courtroom.”

“I really think we have to start to invest in restorative programs and schools and faculties have to be trained in restorative practices.”

“As it relates to mass incarceration, we’ve just had the wrong approach. With the war on drugs, we took the issue and made it criminal instead of making it what it is, which is a public health situation. We started to treat addiction as criminal instead of what it is, which is a public health situation.

“I believe that the district attorney’s role is to be preventative and not just reactive. I believe that’s key to ending mass incarceration, along with not prosecuting and incarcerating homeless people for what we call ‘quality of life issues.’”

What are your thoughts on racial profiling during traffic stops and how do you think we should approach racial disparities in our justice system?

“We are seeing that Latinos and African Americans are searched more than their white counterparts and are less likely to have illegal items on them, and that African Americans are stopped more when compared to their white counterparts.”

“The first thing to do is acknowledge that this exists and not to sugarcoat it. We have to have the real conversations about racial profiling. We have to acknowledge that we have issues and some are systemic. If we’re going to move forward with solutions, we have to have the conversations. There is such a thing as unconscious bias, but there are biases, prejudices and discrimination embedded in the policies and practices themselves and people carry around their own stereotypes and prejudices.”

“We come away from that understanding that we need training to combat those things. We need ongoing racial awareness and sensitivity trainings.”

“Hiring practices are huge, too. We have to start to restructure from communities that are underrepresented. I would like to go back to the days where officers lived in the communities they patrolled. I really think that would start to heal some of the divide and engender trust.”

Especially in East County, homelessness is a critical issue that involves the safety and wellbeing of the community as a whole. What do you think the best methods are to curtail chronic homelessness?

“I talk about getting to the root cause of the problem all the time because this is the only way we can stop homelessness and poverty. We have to treat people with dignity. We have to acknowledge that people need services and when we actually invest in permanent housing, services that go towards mental health, addiction, counseling. 

“We can say that we want to get rid of homelessness and get people off the streets if we’re not willing to provide homes for them.”

“Developers are getting these less difficult permits saying that they’re going to build affordable housing, but no one is checking up on them. We have to have accountability in our processes.”

“We have to be creative with the solution, it may look like tiny houses, it may look like re-doing existing buildings.”

“The other part of this is not prosecuting homeless people for doing things that humans need to do, like sleeping. It’s hard to have someone push to fight for themselves when they’ve never had the system treat them fairly.” 

What are your priorities for the DA?

“We really have to get a handle on the school-to-prison pipeline, and what I mean by that is that we have to completely disrupt it. We say our children are the future but we’ve shown where our priorities are. We’d rather invest in prison and inmates than our education system.”

“What the county is spending on one inmate in a year, we could send at least 15 children to preschool. We really have to shift priorities and invest in early education and in our children. We can’t simply give up on our children”

“I’ve been talking about testing rape kits from day one because it’s something I’m very passionate about. When you have more than 4,000 untested rape kits in the county, that’s a problem. When you have a district attorney’s office that never thought to check all the rape kits, there’s a big problem in bringing justice and dignity to the women in our community. That shows such a failure in our justice system.” 

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