Progressive District Attorneys Can Affect the Foster Care System by Changing the Tough on Crime Culture

I. Introduction: Since the tough on crime culture played a large role in mass incarceration, we must elect Progressive District Attorneys that prioritize diversion and rehabilitation before incarceration whenever it is possible.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, District Attorneys’ offices have a wide degree of discretion throughout the stages of the criminal justice process. The decisions prosecutors make can impact whether a parent gets incarcerated, and ultimately whether a parent loses their parental rights in that process. The Vera Institute compiled an overview of seven critical decision points for prosecutors throughout the criminal justice process and how these decisions can affect an individual’s fate. Notably, the overview highlights how, even at the charging stage, if the prosecutor selects a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence, he has essentially already chosen the potential sentence at the time of charging, rather than the judge or jury doing so at the time of sentencing. If the prosecutor had chosen a lesser charge, this decision could increase the likelihood that a person is, for example, eligible for diversion programs or released pre-trial. Diversion programs, or pre-trial release, could likely help contribute to maintaining an otherwise healthy family unit and keep additional children from being placed in the foster care system.

By prioritizing programs that avoid incarceration and promoting, for example, rehabilitation, prosecutors can dramatically decrease the number of children who end up in foster care. District Attorneys’ offices, and the individual decisions prosecutors make, are highly influenced by their culture. A Chief District Attorney can change the entire culture of an office by, for example, promoting decisions and programs which would actually assist parents in overcoming their involvement in the justice system and allowing them to continue to be involved in their child’s life. Electing a more progressive District Attorney, who prioritizes programs that avoid incarceration, would benefit parents as a whole. Historically, District Attorneys’ offices have followed a tough on crime approach which rewarded a high rate of convictions, at all costs. This culture, in effect, has resulted in the high rates of incarceration we see in our nation today.

Continue reading “Progressive District Attorneys Can Affect the Foster Care System by Changing the Tough on Crime Culture”

Changing the System From Within: How Electing a New District Attorney Can Improve the Foster Care System

I. Introduction: Since most District Attorneys are elected, we must elect District Attorneys who embrace criminal justice reform.

Criminal justice reformers have a new strategy: electing new District Attorneys in order to change the system from within. District Attorneys (“DA’s”) are commonly referred to as prosecutors, and prosecutors represent “the People” of the state in which they work. This means that in everything prosecutors do, with the power they wield, they must keep in mind what is best for the victims, defendants, and people of their state. While the decisions of an individual deputy district attorney, in deciding what is best for “the People,” can influence the foster care system on a micro-level, the election of a Chief District Attorney can influence the foster care system on a macro-level. This is why criminal justice reform advocates have recently begun to utilize a new strategy to advance their cause: voting out the old DA in favor of a new DA who embraces commonsense criminal justice reform.

When a child is placed in the foster care system, that child’s life and the life of that child’s parents are changed forever. The same thing goes for when a child, or a child’s parents, gets incarcerated. These traumatic events have immeasurable lifelong consequences. At every waystation in the criminal justice system, the lives of all those who are touched by the system become irreparably impacted. Given that prosecutors have outsized influence and power in the criminal justice process, it is evident that examining the role of prosecutors is critical to understanding how the foster care system can be improved. While admittedly a crass and inexact analogy, if one were interested in reforming the beef industry, an examination of the roles of cattle farmers would be important to analyze. Concomitantly, an analysis of those who wield power in the criminal justice system, and who serve as de facto feeders into that system, is important to understanding how reform of the system can be most effectively undertaken.

Children with incarcerated parents and children in foster care often overlap. In fact, 40% of children in foster care have been exposed to parental incarceration at some point in their lives. Children with parents who become entangled in the criminal justice system are far more likely to enter the foster care system. In fact, each year, 14,000 children whose parents are incarcerated are placed in the foster care system. The criminal justice system exacts an often-heavy toll on the accused, however, that toll does not just fall on the accused him- or herself. The children of the accused suffer collateral consequences as a result of a parent’s experience with the criminal justice system. Since, in the criminal justice system, prosecutors have arguably the most power and influence, analyzing prosecutors’ roles in the system is thus imperative to understanding how to improve the foster care system. One solution is electing more District Attorneys who embrace systemic reform.

Over the course of my posts, I will discuss the influence the Chief District Attorney has on his or her deputy district attorneys and how that is relevant to the foster care and juvenile justice systems as a whole.

Continue reading “Changing the System From Within: How Electing a New District Attorney Can Improve the Foster Care System”

The Perils and Promises of Localism in Juvenile Justice

My name is Farouq Ghazzawi, but I prefer to be called Vince. I’m half Middle Eastern (Saudi Arabia & Egypt) and half Hispanic (Spain & Peru). I was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there for several years, after which I lived in London, England for a year, before finally moving to the United States when I was 8 years old. I grew up in Riverside, CA. I received my B.A. in Political Science and History from UC Davis, my M.A. in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and I’m here at Santa Clara Law to receive my J.D. in order to become a District Attorney. I have interned at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in both the Misdemeanor and Homicide Units, and this summer I will be interning at the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office. My goal is to be a prosecutor for a decade or so in the hopes of then running for elected office. I am committed to fighting for criminal justice reform and equality. Before coming to law school, I planned to work for the NSA as an Intelligence Analyst, but I declined their job offer in order to pursue my childhood dream of going to law school.

I signed up for this class because, as someone who aspires to become a prosecutor, I feel it is my duty to learn about the foster care and juvenile justice system. My hope is that with the knowledge I gain that I can make a positive difference when I have prosecutorial discretion. Additionally, I signed up for this class because I wanted to help be a part of something bigger than myself and work towards crafting legislation that can improve the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I’m a firm believer that our criminal justice system is unfair, especially for people of color. I also believe how a government spends its money is a reflection of who it thinks is important and worth saving, the more a government invests in its people the more that government values its people.

The theme of my research and writing will be “The Perils and Promises of Localism in Juvenile Justice.” In my exploration of this topic, I will be researching whether—and why—California should have local variations of juvenile justice. We have statewide statutes—why, then, is there not a state-wide system of monitoring and enforcement in California? Are there state-wide systems that we could use as models? And would it be more efficient to have a state-wide system instead of 58 different county systems? I will also explore how localism plays out in the criminal context, looking specifically at whether electing a new Chief District Attorney makes a difference for the office’s culture. I’ll assess the immense change Larry Krasner’s election as DA of Philadelphia has had on the office and by extension the office’s programs (with a special focus on Juvenile Justice issues). I will conclude by suggesting ways in which policymakers can assign local discretion to maximize good outcomes and minimize bad ones.