By: Cooper Overstreet, Democrat For Douglas County DA

There’s no use denying it: our criminal justice system, both in the United States, and in Douglas County, is broken. I’m running for District Attorney because we need progressive leadership to fix it.

The facts are clear and well-known. Incarceration rates in this country over the last 40 years have quadrupled. As I write, there are over 2 million people in this country behind bars. This drastic increase in incarceration rates is occurring at the same time that crime rates are consistently falling across the nation. Statistics paint a grim picture: 2.7 million children under the age of 18 have an incarcerated parent; there are more jails than colleges in the United States; non-violent drug offenses account for almost half of the total population in federal prisons; and taxpayers spend more than $70 billion each year to incarcerate 1 in 100 American adults.

Added to this phenomenon is what the Vera Institute has described as the “front door of mass incarceration.” The idea that rather than state or federal prisons, it is actually local county and city jails that are the main drivers of mass incarceration. These local facilities continue to house disproportionate amounts of poor and minority inmates, and drive mass incarceration rates up across the country. The story is no different here in Douglas County, where we have seen a steady increase in our jail population.

Our system is simply not working. It is not working for victims or defendants. And it’s not making our community safer. Clearly, reforms are desperately needed before entire segments of our population are wiped out by mass incarceration and an unfair and racist apparatus.

All of this adds up to one thing: how do we fix the problem? How do we make our community safer? How do we create a criminal justice system truly focused on justice? For starters, we must have leaders who are not afraid to have difficult conversations. We must acknowledge that the criminal justice system must be about more than crime and punishment. Instead, the conversation must shift to the ideas of restoration and rehabilitation for all in the system.

In shifting our focus, we can’t shy away from acknowledging the role that race and poverty play in our system. We must continue to ask why crimes are being committed, and not just how we can punish those who commit them. And we must treat drug addiction and mental health like public health crises, not as criminal conduct. 

The primary responsibility of a District Attorney is to keep the community safe. The current state of our criminal justice system in Douglas County makes all of us less safe because reckless incarceration destabilizes communities. We need leaders who will adopt people-first approaches to repair our broken system. We need to adopt effective and compassionate mental health and drug treatment programs. And we need to USE them effectively everyday. Douglas County has vast resources and networks of individuals and organizations who care and are willing to help. We need a District Attorney who is not afraid to ask for help from these groups, and actively seeks their input on how we can make our community safer.

We need to focus our efforts on reducing recidivism rates as well. A district attorney’s role doesn’t end after a case is completed. Instead we must constantly be working to reduce repeat offenders. We do this by teaching marketable job skills, providing educational opportunities, building social and team skills, and strengthening our community outreach programs. These are all proven ways of reducing recidivism and personal patterns of crime. And Douglas County has the people and the passion to see ideas like this through.

As your District Attorney, I will focus my efforts not on obtaining convictions, but instead on repairing the fractured bonds that exist in our county. I will create an office built on trust, accountability, and compassion. This is the only way back, and the only way to bring true justice to our broken system. 

For more information, see the Vera Institute’s Report “The New Dynamics of Mass Incarceration” found here: https://www.vera.org/publications/the-new-dynamics-of-mass-incarceration

Also visit www.votecoop.com/platform for my ideas on how we fix the broken system right here in Douglas County.

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