Dallas DA Creuzot Created a Road Map to a Humane and Safe Criminal Justice System

At last, Texas has an elected official with a comprehensive plan to bring more sensible, humane practices to our justice system. It is no secret that the determinative factor of a person's outcome in the criminal justice system is often the money in his or her pocket. Coupled with the fact that communities of color, which studies show bear the highest burden of poverty, are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, our justice system has become rife with inequities, from arrest to sentencing to supervision.Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has announced a detailed plan for change. Creuzot campaigned on promises to reform practices like money bail, marijuana possession and trespass prosecutions, and other policies that unequally punish the poor and people of color. One of the most significant reforms is Creuzot's proposal to recalibrate the money bail system with basic common sense: to make public safety, not wealth, the basis for bail decisions. Creuzot's policy recognizes that most people charged with low-level offenses can be safely released while awaiting trial. It requires prosecutors to give evidence-based reasons for why a person might not return to court or might pose a threat to the community. Importantly, Creuzot's policy requires that when money bail is set, it must be based on what someone can afford. Under these guidelines, people cannot be locked up just because their bond amount is too high for them to pay.Creuzot's policies signify a much-needed shift in our treatment of vulnerable people. By declining to prosecute non-residential criminal trespass cases, Creuzot has created an opportunity to redirect the money spent on caging the mentally ill and homeless in jail into housing and mental health services. He reserves discretion not to prosecute the impoverished who take small amounts of items needed to survive, like food or diapers. Creuzot is right to recognize the fundamental unfairness in these situations: criminalizing the weak only pushes them further away from stable lives, which harms communities. Creuzot is also leading the state in addressing problems in our probation system in a way that will reduce probation officer caseloads and free scant resources to help those that need it the most. He is addressing the disparity in enforcement of marijuana possession by declining to prosecute first-time offenses and by offering alternative programs for subsequent cases. As his statement notes, despite similar rates of use with their white peers, African-Americans are more likely to be prosecuted, assessed bond, convicted and given a jail sentence for marijuana possession. Creuzot's policy will help more people avoid senseless, stigmatizing criminal convictions.Creuzot's policies point the way to a justice system that is humane, healthy and safe. It's an important start, but if Dallas County is going to successfully end the harmful, immoral incarceration of the poor, we need more county leaders to show us they are serious about reform. Creuzot has provided a promising road map for change. We need all of our elected officials to take responsibility for making it happen.Marcus D. King is the pastor of Disciple Central Community Church in Desoto. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.   Continue reading...

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