The Need For Real Change in our Criminal Justice System

A question I hear a lot is: "Isn't King County already very progressive on criminal justice issues?" Or, stated another way, "Aren't we slowly but surely moving toward reform?"

Sadly, the answer is "no".

In my twenty years as a public defender I’ve seen first hand how the regressive policies and practices of the County Prosecutor have hurt our residents. I’ve seen how our status quo disproportionately affects the poor and people of color. We cannot sit by any longer waiting for incremental change.

At its core, the justice system presided over by Dan Satterberg remains racist, oppressive, ineffective and wasteful. When there has been slow motion towards progress at the Prosecutor’s office, it has only come when politically convenient, and the results have been shallow or meaningless. Our Prosecutor's recent statements against the death penalty are overshadowed by his very recent use of $15 million taxpayer dollars to prosecute a death penalty case. Our Prosecutor's support of community-established diversion programs and has not led to a reduction in overall prosecutions or incarcerations.  Our jail population remains outrageously high. Our African American residents continue to be imprisoned at grotesquely disparate rates.

Sadly, whatever slow changes have occurred, have become a way to silence those asking for real reform in our criminal justice system. We are having overdue conversations about ending the death penalty and diverting the lowest level drug offenders, when we should be talking about ending mass incarceration and systemic racism in our County and our State.  This requires that we dismantle the school to prison pipeline, stop talking over women in the courtroom, stop denying access to medical care and accommodations to defendants with mental illnesses and disabilities, end coercive plea bargaining, and hold law enforcement officers accountable for misconduct. 

King County should be a national model for progressive policies in action. It is not enough to shuffle along towards change.  I believe that the time has come to make full strides. To see the changes I will make on my first day in office, click here.