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Prosecuting from a Progressive Lens: The California Criminal System is broken. For the last 40-plus years law enforcement has focused on a response to harm—acting after the fact —rather than prevention. Extreme sentences are argued as a deterrence; however, the results have simply led to over incarceration, costing taxpayers upwards of $84,000 annually, per incarcerated person—even though studies show that the vast majority of people inside age out of crime after fifteen years. This essay will briefly touch on the failures of the past nearly half century, while introducing novel, common sense, and evidence-based reforms that promise a reduction in crime, costs, and harm.

During this period of epic failure, law enforcement and the Legislature have relied on whim and caprice to respond to crime, creating an over-reliance on incarceration. This over incarceration includes fellow citizens suffering from substance abuse disorder; people who would be better served in health care facilities. Furthermore, those whims and caprice have resulted in historical racial disparities, giving the illusion that crime is generated primarily by people of color. This by-gone and played out period was termed the “tough-on-crime era."

It failed miserably!

Today, armed with the culmination of rigorous studies and evidence-based modalities, Progressive DAs are changing the approach to social harms by relying on tested and proven methods. And the public has responded favorably as evidenced by historic election results. For starters, Progressive DAs are responding to studies since the '70s that indicate that the vast majority of crime survivors have called for prevention rather than "feel-good retribution" that exacts extreme sentences. Studies show long sentences do nothing to deter crime. Watching the daily news and viewing a host of robberies and homicides, does it look like these actors are deterred? And more importantly, do you feel safer despite California's historic incarceration rates?

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Progressive DAs understand the social scientific phenomenon of replacement criminality (RC). For instance, when a drug dealer or cartel is shut down, or a theft ring is taken off the streets, RC dictates that within hours someone else takes their place. This is why experts warn that we cannot arrest our way out of crime. Only equal access to public services and robust rehabilitative programs can defang the desperation of poverty, and robust rehabilitative programs reform the criminal mindset.

As the Legislature and governor move toward implementing Progressive DA strategies, we should understand the impetus for doing so. Over 125,000 people return to society each year from prisons. The choice neighbor to have is not someone who was idly warehoused with a long, but unproductive sentence. No, the ideal neighbor to have is someone who has had pragmatic rehabilitative opportunities to learn new ways of thinking and viewing the world. The ideal co-worker is someone who had issues with substance abuse, has received the intervention needed, and can now contribute to their fullest potential.

These are the aims of Progressive DAs. They are following study after study that show people can change, and that prisons are extremely expensive, and often do more harm than intended. Progressive DAs now understand that hurt people tend to hurt others, and that unresolved trauma is a prevailing causative factor in anti-social behavior. But preeminent above all, Progressive DAs understand that healing harm is the key to real public safety, and that requires a shift from prisons to prevention.

This is what prosecuting the people's way looks like.