When someone is arrested, the District Attorney has tremendous power in deciding whether to prosecute and what penalties to seek. These decisions have far-reaching implications for our security and our quality of life, as involvement in the criminal justice system is a leading cause of homelessness.
The actions of the current prosecutor endanger us and affect our quality of life. Homicides have hit a 22-year high since District Attorney Todd Spitzer took office. In his second year in office, assaults with a gun increased by 51%. During his tenure, homelessness has increased by 41%.
As violent crime increases in Orange County, District Attorney Todd Spitzer continues to focus prosecutorial resources on low-level crimes. For example, the 10 most prosecuted crimes in Orange County are all low-level nonviolent crimes. This approach deprives the police and prosecutors of resources from dealing with violent crime. It’s also exacerbating our homelessness crisis.
Responding to behaviors stemming from addiction and mental illness with incarceration alone greatly increases the likelihood of becoming homeless. In fact, the non-partisan Urban Institute found that someone who has been incarcerated just once is seven times more likely to become homeless. To make matters worse, medication is readily available in most prisons, and incarceration has been shown to exacerbate mental illness. We just can’t fix addiction, mental illness, or homelessness by throwing people in a concrete box. If this approach worked, the behavioral crisis on our streets would get better. Instead, it has gotten significantly worse.
The incarceration of people with homelessness, mental illness and addiction can temporarily get them off the streets, but low-level crime doesn’t last seriously. As a result, people are released back into society without treatment and with a criminal conviction, making it difficult to find work and housing. In fact, a criminal conviction is one of the biggest obstacles to employment, housing and education. A vicious circle is created that greatly increases recidivism and homelessness.
Rather than accepting this reality and implementing proven solutions, Todd Spitzer — a politician with 30 years of experience — is perpetuating policies that are making crime and homelessness worse in our communities. For example, a recent study by criminal justice experts recommended that he remove arbitrary barriers to distraction, which would more effectively break the cycle of petty crime and homelessness. Instead, Spitzer continues to track short jail terms and criminal convictions for first-time, low-level nonviolent offenders. Spitzer called the mental health diversion in 2018 a “prison-free map” that reflects a gross misunderstanding of mental illness in the criminal justice system. A staggering 80% of the children in our juvenile institution and over 20% of the children in our prison system suffer from mental illness.
Studies show that the majority of individuals who seek addiction and mental health treatment eventually achieve sobriety, healing, and live productive lives. We should implement policies that help people along this path, not criminalize and demonize them.
The upcoming June election is your opportunity to chart a new course for Orange County. If elected district attorney, I will prioritize the prosecution of violent crime while implementing modern solutions to improve our quality of life by reducing homelessness and treating mental illness and addiction for the public health crises they are.
I will work with the Orange County Health Care Agency to remove arbitrary restrictions and expand eligibility criteria to distract addicts and the mentally ill to the earliest possible point of contact. I will work with law enforcement to implement modern approaches such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which have been shown to effectively break the cycle of addiction, mental illness and brief incarceration by helping participants work towards achieving stability in the community .
From my time as a soldier in Afghanistan to my career as a local and state attorney general, I have spent my life fighting to keep our communities safe. I’m raising my son here, and if I’m elected district attorney, I will listen to the experts, the science, and the data to chart a path to healthier, safer neighborhoods for every family in Orange County.
Pete Hardin is a former Navy Judge Attorney, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Assistant District Attorney and candidate for district attorney of Orange County.