Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot hinged many of his campaign promises on criminal justice reform, which he says are needed to help the backlog of 10,000 cases. He started rolling out some of those reforms in April and they were met with backlash from some state and local leaders claiming his new policies will undermine the justice system.
"Change brings fear to some people. The perception is that there is more fear than satisfaction because the fearful are louder," said DA Creuzot, who sat down with NBC 5 Today just before making a big announcement he hopes will help make some of his new initiatives a success. "I think there was more than public outcry. I think there was public satisfaction too."
Creuzot pledged $100,000 toward a new homeless shelter Wednesday, in an effort to keep people out of jail. Dallas City Council members unanimously approved the Salvation Army shelter, to be built in Northwest Dallas on Interstate 35 E, Stemmons Freeway.
The land is vacant now, but the 20-acre site will soon become a shelter that can house some 600 people.
Last month, Creuzot detailed his decision to stop prosecution of certain cases, including first time marijuana offenders and food and personal health thefts valued at less than $750.
"What people don’t understand is that we have a 10,000 case backlog of cases that we can’t get to," Creuzot said. "We don’t have the staff to get to them. And it continues to build and the question is are we going to try to knock that down, stop it from building or let it grow on cases that we are not doing anything with in the first place so it’s a question of resource management."
He said this is not a free pass to break the law, but rather an alternative to what the county was used to -- a system that he said was not working, effectively costing tax payers for a job that wasn’t getting done.
He also talked about modifications to the marijuana prosecution policies within his office.
"This idea that marijuana creates violent crime is just I don’t know what to say. There is no research to suggest that and you know there are police chiefs who say there is. I have given that research over to institutions, notable institutions and they think very little of it and so do I," Creuzot said. "Discretion is exercised throughout the system and to say that I am exercising discretion on misdemeanor marijuana cases and that that is going to create some crime wave is disingenuous and its not reflective of how every actor in the criminal justice center operates."
He said offenders who qualify will be eligible for programs and counseling instead of immediate jail time. Creuzot said that’s how these cases stay out of the court system and ultimately decrease the number of repeat offenders.
He said they have also enlisted the services of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law. They will be conducting studies to analyze the results of these changes to see if there are any adverse effects. Creuzot said if some of the reports are unfavorable or prove to be a danger to the community, they will look at revamping the changes.