EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of questions Jackson County district attorney candidates will answer in the days leading up to the May 15 primary.
We read and hear a lot about early releases of criminals from jail because of overcrowding. If the options for punishing those convicted of crimes are limited, what can the district attorney do to ensure that the community is kept safe?
The simplest way to keep our community safe is to seek prison sentences whenever possible for dangerous offenders. Not all cases are prison cases, however, and the vast majority of domestic violence cases that we file do not have prison as a sentencing option.
To keep our community safe, we should create a fast track for domestic violence cases in general. If victims know that their case is on a fast track for trial, they will recant less and not seek to drop the no-contact orders as often. Combining a fast-track process with aggressive litigation will prevent domestic violence defendants from "waiting out" their victims and lead to more convictions. If there are fewer domestic violence cases pending due to quicker resolutions, then there will be more room in the jail and fewer defendants released.
In addition, if domestic violence offenders attempt to contact their victims from jail, we should file felony tampering charges. The tampering charges may lead to prison time as well as quicker resolution of the underlying offenses. This past year we have seen the ripple effects of domestic violence on our community — we need more convictions and fewer candlelight vigils; we can do better.
Dave Hoppe is a career prosecutor. Law enforcement named him Oregon's first Child Abuse Prosecutor of the Year. He is married and has two children. Candidate website: davehoppe4da.com.
Overcrowding is a problem. But the DA can't simply accept that and continue processing cases while hoping that a solution to jail funding will appear. As the chief law enforcement officer, the DA has the responsibility to lead the fight to secure adequate funding to hold criminals accountable.
Leading means taking a serious look at lower-cost alternatives to incarceration. It means exploring pretrial release alternatives like electronic monitoring for lower-level offenses. It means being savvy with our resources, like using more detox beds that cost $25-plus a day as opposed to jail beds at a cost of $120-plus a day.
Unfortunately, those types of steps alone won't solve the problem. Approximately 70 percent of the county's general fund budget is the criminal justice system.
Traditionally, adequate law enforcement funding came from timber revenue. However, federal dollars are drying up and the forests are locked up. The DA must help lead the fight to open up our forests to environmentally sustainable harvests to fund public safety and schools. People who have jobs and are educated commit less crime.
We need someone with a vision about how to help transform our community, not just cycle cases through a broken system.
Rob Patridge has served as deputy district attorney, general counsel for Rogue Valley Manor, state representative and a Medford City Council member and is currently general counsel for Congressman Greg Walden. Candidate website: robpatridge.com.
First, it must be understood that the primary responsibility of the district attorney is to train and manage an elite group of highly skilled prosecutors and support staff so the citizens of Jackson County can rest assured that those who commit crimes are held accountable. That being said, presently Jackson County has three drug court programs which allow defendants to serve their sentences through treatment options that are strictly supervised with close cooperation of the court, treatment providers, parole and probation and defense attorneys.
We also need to continue the use of alternatives to incarceration, when appropriate, such as community service, home detention or the work release center, where inmates can be held for much less cost than the county jail.
However, most important for the long-term benefit, we need to focus our attention on juvenile offenders, using evidence-based treatment programs. The key to reducing our inmate populations is preventing juveniles from graduating to the adult system.
Finally, it is the responsibility of local government to provide adequate funding for our jails and the Legislature to change the law according to the needs of the citizens, with guidance from the district attorneys in the state.
Beth Heckert, a prosecutor with Jackson County for 23 years, was promoted to chief deputy in 2000. She is married and has three sons. Candidate website: BethHeckertforDA.com.