Real Reform in Our Courtrooms and Our Cellblocks

Ensuring Security through Accountability and Trust

Real criminal justice reform in King County requires a fundamentally different approach to public safety.  Every member of our community deserves security.  For that to happen, those who violate and abuse the community must be held accountable.  Presently, however, our Prosecutor continues to pursue approaches that simply demonize and criminalize poverty, or disparately impact people with mental illness, youth, and people of color. King County deserves better.

We know why we have a system of mass incarceration in this country, and we know that it is because of race.  In addition, all available data shows that long sentences are harmful and promote recidivism. Presently, our County Prosecutor files 32% of all charges against African Americans.  Similarly, our County Jail is 36% African American.  From arrest, to charging, to bail hearings, to plea bargaining, to sentencing, our system disparately impacts people of color.  It criminalizes poverty and mental illness, particularly through the money bail system and through plea coercion.  It is particularly violent against our youth, separating children from their families at extremely racially disparate rates.

Clearly, this is unacceptable and calls us to urgent action.  While our current Prosecutor is viewed as a reformer by some, the truth is that reform is happening only around the edges of these horrific and systemic problems.  While our current Prosecutor has worked to divert low-level drug offenders out of jails and into treatment, and while he has engaged in some reforms to assist prisoners re-entering society, none of these reforms address the systemic racism and other forms of unfairness inherent in our system.  In fact, such reforms distract from real solutions.  They allow us to feel like we are doing something meaningful even though we are not.  They are the permission we give ourselves to continue to tolerate injustice. 

Our Prosecutor's Office must hold itself accountable to addressing systemic injustice. Doing so is fundamental to public safety.  Our County Prosecutor's core mission is to set standards of accountability for our community.  It cannot do that if it is unwilling to first hold itself accountable.  Presently, our Prosecutor generally does not even keep meaningful statistics about the impacts of its practices on people of color and other marginalized groups.  Our Prosecutor seems wholly unwilling to talk about systemic racism or bias, much less address it.  Our Prosecutor lets its staff operate with relative impunity and without meaningful oversight. 

Real reform must be systemic and data driven.  It must happenthroughout our prisons and our courtrooms.  

  1. Commit to Sentencing Reform and ending punitive mandatory minimums. We must end the failed approach of dialing up punitive sentencing enhancements and mandatory minimums. Our prosecutor should rely on evidence-based crime prevention, rather than continuing to employ failed and racist "law and order" (coded language) era policies.  We must return trust and discretion to our judges to grant mercy when mercy is due.  It is not enough to promote a little bit of legislative reform.  We must fully dedicate ourselves to rolling back harmful and ineffective approaches that still control our justice system today.  

  2. Restore Fairness and Balance in our Courtrooms. Our prison system is fed by coercive practices, particularly around money bail, plea bargaining, and speedy trial. We must end the money bail system so that justice does not depend on one's ability to pay.  We must also ensure that the fundamental right to jury trial is enforced without coercion or delay.  This means centralized oversight over plea offers and promoting speedy trials and efficient use of taxpayer resources. We must restore this fundamental fairness to our proceedings, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because these forms of coercion exacerbate incarceration rates and disproportionality.

  3. Prioritize Public Safety, not the Criminalization of Poverty.  When members of our community are abused, attacked or violated, perpetrators must be held accountable.  Presently, this doesn't happen, particularly for victims of sexual abuse.  In one instance, misguided priorities and the acceptance of special interest money actually made vulnerable populations less safe.  Ensuring public safety also means seeking non-bailable detention orders (not money bail) for the most serious crimes as provided by our State Constitution (see Article I, Section 20).  Real public safety also means police accountability.  Black Lives Matter but our Prosecutor continues to find reasons to excuse police violence, even in the most extreme cases. 
  4. Fully Invest and in Diversion and Restorative Justice. We know that programs like the King County Law Enforcement and Assisted Diversion (LEAD) work. However, they affect far too few lives. Similarly, our Regional Mental Health Court serves only a few hundred people each year.  We also must make diversion and restorative justice in all cases where doing so is consistent with accountability and public safety.  We must be bold in expanding programs we know work, and hold ourselves to the ambitious goals we have set. As we reduce waste, excessive bail and delay, we will divert those cost savings to expanded diversion and restorative justice approaches.  

    Accountability to Community

I believe that justice is best achieved through active partnership between the Prosecutor's Office and community members. This is especially true when marginalized voices - such as the voices of women, caretakers, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, and youth - are actively sought and prioritized. I am committed to involving the community in developing guidelines for prosecution that effectively address crime while building up healthy and safe community.

Fundamentally, this means not stigmatizing vulnerable populations.  Recently, our current Prosecutor said he believes that most of those suffering homelessness are drug addicts (See TVW Interview at approx 16 min). Our King County Prosecutor must have a level of community engagement and basic empathy that is not reflected in those kinds of statements. It is well known that the number one cause of homelessness is the skyrocketing cost of living and a lack of affordable housing. Rather than blaming some of the most vulnerable people in our county for experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity, the Prosecutor must listen to the community and make informed decisions based on known root causes of crime. 

  1. Regularly invite community to train prosecutors about implicit bias, de-escalation, and sensitivity to the myriad challenges facing community.  Training on these issues has been minimal and ad-hoc.  That must change.  I will institute a regular, community-driven, and systemic training program for all staff. 

  2. Hire deputy prosecutors with real lived experience from marginalized communities.  Hiring people of privilege from the "top law schools" is a poor way to serve community.  Prosecutors must have real and relevant lived experience to truly achieve justice.  As Prosecutor, I will make sure we hire prosecutors who have the real wisdom and experience needed to do the job.

  3. Stop stigmatizing homelessness, mental illness, poverty, and drug addiction.  These vulnerabilities must not be viewed as threats.  As prosecutor, my commitment will be to address root causes of crime, rather than stigmatize vulnerable populations. 

  4. Support community in advocating against ineffective funding priorities like the Youth Jail.  
    We can stop tearing families apart and we can stop locking up children. We can do so while assuring community safety, but we must truly dedicate ourselves to finding better, more creative, community-driven solutions.  Simply building an outrageously expensive 112 bed jail perpetuates deeply rooted systemic harm. 
  5. Instead of threatening families with incarceration, work with parents and teachers to keep kids in schools.  
    While we do better than many other jurisdictions in this area, we can do more.  Our prosecutor should be engaged with educators to address the root problems underlying lack of attendance.

  6. Respect and honor women’s autonomy, especially in cases of domestic violence and also with sex work.  
    We cannot effectively address domestic violence and exploitation if we do not listen to women.  Presently, our Prosecutor all too often dictates to women rather than really listening to their voices. 
  7. Promote jury diversity and prevent jury discrimination.  
    It is presently exceedingly difficult, financially, to serve as a juror.  The reimbursement rate remains set at $10/day and has not been changed since 1959.  When jurors do appear, deputy prosecutors often remove them from service through the use of peremptory challenges, which can have highly discriminatory effects.  Jury service is a fundamental part of civic life in our county and must be scrupulously promoted and protected.  I will work to increase the compensation rate for those in economic need and protect jurors from discrimination throughout their service.  

  8. Promote a more thorough and transparent process for investigating officer-involved shootings.  We currently lack any adequate means to investigate officer-involved shootings.  The only external procedure we employ is the coroner's inquest, which is not intended to address issues of culpability.  As Prosecutor, I will conduct meaningful, external investigations of officer involved shootings when there are grounds to believe a crime may have been committed.