The Dallas DA must commit to reducing the number of people going to jail and prison. Services for the mentally ill, public education and diversion programs are a better way to address public safety because these alternatives actually address the underlying issues that cause criminal behavior in the first place.
The district attorney is basically the gatekeeper to our criminal justice system. The DA decides whether someone who is living with mental illness or a drug addiction will get access to treatment and rehabilitation, or whether they will instead be charged with a crime that is likely to result in jail time. The next Dallas DA must expand use of treatment and diversion. By targeting the underlying problems that led to a crime in the first place, effective diversion programs can make Dallas County safer and our justice system fairer.
The next Dallas DA should use their power and influence to communicate the harms of the money bail system and the need for reform. The vast majority of people in Dallas County Jail cells are held in jail awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford cash bail. The use of money bail disproportionately harms people of color and causes people to lose jobs, housing, cars, medical care, and even child custody. Money bail has also been shown to lead to more crime, increase the likelihood that someone will be convicted and sentenced to jail, and lead to longer jail sentences.
The next Dallas County District Attorney should eliminate requests for money bail and recommend, whenever possible, presumptive release of defendants without financial conditions unless there is a substantial and identifiable flight risk or danger to the community.
District attorneys helped lead us into our country’s mass incarceration crisis, and we need them to help lead us out of it. The next district attorney in Dallas County must commit to setting specific, measurable decarceration goal during their next term and then implementing a plan to achieve it.
Across Texas, and especially in Dallas County, there are too many people of color caught up in the criminal justice system. Our next district attorney must commit to requiring that prosecutors participate in implicit bias training. They must also track and work to eliminate racial disparities in decisions made by their Office, including disparities in charging decisions, bail recommendations, diversionary program placements, and plea bargains.
Typically, little information beyond conviction rates is gathered or made public by district attorney’s office. This lack of transparency prevents the public, and even the district attorney office itself, from knowing what decisions are being made or the outcomes of those decisions. Fully transparent practices and outcomes improve decision-making, allow the public to hold the elected DA accountable, and enable the public to push the DA in other areas in the future. The next Dallas County DA must pledge to collect and regularly post online statistical information disaggregated by race and gender on felony and misdemeanor charging decisions, convictions, declinations, and diversion program placements.
Achieving safety and justice is a community-wide effort, and communities across Dallas County care deeply about the work of the district attorney’s office. The next district attorney must commit to personally, regularly and meaningfully engaging with the Dallas community about their needs.
The primary election will be on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.
Early voting will run from February 20 – March 2.
District attorneys have tremendous power and, traditionally, very little oversight or accountability. District attorneys have the power to impact the lives of millions of people. If someone is accused of committing a crime, it is not the police but the district attorney who has the sole power to decide if criminal charges are filed and how severe those charges will be. District attorneys get to decide who deserves to go to jail and who will instead be routed into a diversion program to help rebuild their life, or have charges dismissed.
The ACLU is strictly a nonpartisan organization. We take no position on any of the candidates. Our goal is to educate voters about where the candidates running for district attorney stand on critical issues related criminal justice.
The ACLU has a long history of working to educate voters on where candidates and office holders stand on ACLU issues, for example, by publishing scorecards and legislator’s voting histories. Given the importance of local district attorneys, the ACLU is now committed to ensuring that voters have as much information about where district attorney candidates stand on issues. However, the ACLU does not endorse any of the candidates. Our goal is to educate voters about where the district attorney candidates stand on critical issues related to criminal justice.