SYSTEMIC REFORM – CHANGING THE SYSTEM FROM THE INSIDE OUT IN THE 18TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT

Implicit bias has a devastating impact on our communities and is a primary factor contributing to the systemic bias in our criminal justice system.  We must recognize the existence of implicit bias in our schools, our police agencies, our courts, DA’s offices, and our everyday interactions to understand its impact on the system.  Only when we recognize its true character and insidiousness, can we work to remedy the injustice it causes.  Implicit bias does not only occur in personal interactions with the community, but also through policies and practices that were built on a biased foundation.  To effect change, we must recognize the biased practices and their intersections with the criminal justice system that initiate or perpetuate a biased result.  

Dismantling systemic racism from within-  

A multi-faceted approach to fighting implicit and systemic bias.

  1. Changing practices that have a disproportionate and biased result.
    • Goal: To reduce unnecessary incarceration and remove barriers to offenders rehabilitating and being successful after their interaction with the justice system.
    • Plan:  Perpetual racial disparity in the justice system exists because of policies that disproportionately impact offenders and victims based on their race, ethnicity, wealth, among other factors.  There are practices prosecutors and other professionals can undertake which will lessen that impact and have an immediate positive effect. I will institute a variety of practices that will reduce the impacts of systemic bias.  I will immediately implement a plan to:
  • Bail reform:
    • Focusing on keeping alleged offenders in the community, at work, and with their families, while ensuring protection of the community through pretrial support and services.
    • Considering all alternatives to cash bail to avoid detention based on relative wealth.
  • Minimize collateral consequences of criminal conduct and convictions through consideration of the future impacts of each plea and seeking to avoid negative future consequences which impact future growth opportunities or residency.
    • Increased use of deferred judgment agreements on non-violent felonies.
    • Considering plea agreements which allow for sealing and expungement. 
    • Decreased focus on felony convictions.
    • Considering the disproportionate impact of certain pleas on justice-involved immigrants.
    • Increased use of victim-centered restorative justice, treatment, and restitution as the core elements of sentencing.
    • Review the need for, and impact of, incarceration on all non-violent crimes.
  • Increase the scope of the juvenile and adult diversion programs by expanding the criteria to allow more diverse participation and allow pre-filing where possible.
  • Eliminate the use of habitual sentencing, with exception of those who prey upon children or have repeatedly engaged in sexual violence.
  • End the use of inappropriate leverage in plea bargaining by charging or threatening to charge crimes with mandatory sentences.  
  • Establish a mental health pre-filing diversion program in which intake prosecutors divert from the justice system offenders who are demonstrably mentally ill, where that illness is substantially related to the current criminal conduct.
  • Establish an addiction pre-filing diversion program in which intake prosecutors divert from the justice system:
    • Those whose only charge is possession of a controlled substance; and 
    • Those who may be charged with other offenses, but whose addiction is substantially related to the current criminal conduct.
  • Authorize use of appropriate discretion to divert or dismiss any case in which continuing with the prosecution would violate fundamental fairness based on all factors.

2. Increasing diversity and inclusion within the District Attorney’s office.  Now more than ever we need prosecutors that represent the diversity of the communities they represent.  Diversity in the composition of the District Attorney’s office means better representation across our diverse jurisdiction and a healthier environment within the office.  It means a more thoughtful and empathetic consideration of each case, including a just and realistic consideration of the impact of the system on every victim and every offender. 

    • Goal: Employing racially, ethnically, and philosophically diverse staff to work in the DA’s office, to change the system from within.
    • Plan: I will focus immediately on recruitment, training, and retention. I will immediately appoint a Director of Diversity and Inclusion to train, recruit, and retain diverse lawyers and support staff in the office.  The director will be responsible for implementing our plan for a modern prosecution office. We will immediately:
  • Stand up a new community engagement office in Aurora, which will serve the community as a resource center for the community, and will also serve  to educate and to recruit new employees (lawyers, paralegals, victim witness advocates, administrative professionals, etc.) who wish to serve their community through public service.
  • Establish a robust implicit bias and cultural competence training program: 
    • Consistent implicit bias and cultural competence training, curriculum, and measures.
    • Cross disciplinary training sessions with police, judges, defense lawyers, other justice system stakeholders, community members, and justice-involved individuals.
    • Requiring one-on-one inclusion coaching to the organization’s leaders.  Starting with a top-down approach to make sure the decision makers in the organization are aware of how their own biases are influencing decisions and interactions that may lie at the heart of unequal treatment of employees.  
  • Collaborate with local law schools and colleges to create a criminal justice reform curriculum taught by prosecutors, defense attorneys and other stakeholders in the system.
  • Seek out reform-minded and community-focused ethos in prosecutors.
  • Engage and recruit experienced lawyers with criminal defense backgrounds.
  • Seek out non-traditional speaking and training opportunities through law school.
  • Recruit from the local bar and professional associations of which our state’s diverse lawyers and professionals are members, including the Sam Cary Bar, Hispanic Bar, Asian Pacific American Bar, South Asian Bar, Indian Bar, LGBT Bar, and diverse law student affinity groups.
  • Obtain office membership in the Center for Legal Inclusiveness to develop a more inclusive and diverse office through intentional training and networking.
  • Join the Colorado Pledge to Diversity Program to address the under-representation of diverse lawyers in the office.

3. The “community justice prosecutor.”

    • Goal: To ensure all prosecutors who have the power to change the course of a community member’s life understand the community they serve and represent so they can be true public servants.  To create an attractive environment for talented reform-minded prosecutors who are interested in protecting their community without harming it in the process.  These lawyers will be subject matter and trial experts, who will be equally able to properly resolve cases and try the offenders who pose the greatest risk to our community.
    • Plan: I will require prosecutors to immerse themselves in the diverse community they represent, by attending public meetings, working shifts in the new community engagement office, spending time supporting victims and families at One Place, sitting on community boards, and availing themselves of other community service opportunities.  By truly becoming part of the community, prosecutors will have more to consider when they look at a case, a victim, an offender – they will understand what the community needs in terms of justice, healing, and protection. 
  • New and existing prosecutors will receive training on all aspects of systemic racism, including the root causes and the manifestations of that racism in the modern criminal justice system.
  • Prosecutors will engage with the community in numerous capacities, including teaching in high schools, colleges, law schools, and various community learning centers.
  • Prosecutors will attend a variety of recurring community board and committee meetings and will offer safety and preparedness and resource updates on behalf of the office.
  • As part of their work in the community, prosecution teams (including victim advocate and investigative support) will also serve as a mobile prosecution unit capable of taking complaints then communicating with local police or investigating alleged crimes themselves as resources require.
  • Prosecutors will be encouraged to engage the community through round table discussions with local community stakeholders and reform organizations (e.g. NAACP, Colo. Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, etc.).
  • Interested prosecutors will be encouraged to engage the community’s many faith-based leaders and groups.

The criminal justice system is lagging in the acknowledgment of systemic racism and its effects on our community.  There have also been insufficient efforts to call systemic racism what it is, which is a prerequisite to implementing reforms to achieve systemic change.  A multi-faceted and collaborative effort by the various criminal justice stakeholders will be required to make real progress and achieve real justice in our community.

Matt Maillaro 

Candidate for District Attorney