We’d be the first to say that the criminal justice system in this county, this state and country is in need of serious reform. Too often, people of color and poor defendants are unfairly penalized and trapped in dire situations from which they have difficulty ever recovering.
So we understand Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot’s aggressiveness in wanting to enact sweeping policy changes for his prosecutors on how they handle bail, probation and low-level crimes.
The county has long needed a better way to assess the risk that a defendant will flee, for example, and a fairer way to assign bail that factors in the ability to pay. The current bail system has been ruled unconstitutional so we applaud Creuzot’s efforts to curb the excessive amounts.
And we understand why he plans on spending the majority of his office’s resources on the most serious crimes in our community.
But as we work toward improvements, we are apprehensive about Creuzot’s plan to decriminalize low-level crimes. It has the potential to send the wrong message about our tolerance for any crime in this county. We worry about the new policy creating a system that tells petty criminals their bad acts are OK and that demands police officers look the other way.
And we can’t lose sight of the thousands of real victims of these crimes for which their experiences erode their feelings of safety — real or perceived — in their neighborhoods.
This newspaper has often praised Creuzot’s efforts as a judge to create one of the first drug courts in the state that offered defendants diversion alternatives to prison time. His new plan seems to focus on rehabilitation. In that regard, he joins reform-minded criminal justice leaders across the country in trying to bring more balance to an imperfect system.
overty” may go too far in the other direction, particularly at a time when residents across this region are worried about increased crime in their neighborhoods, from package theft to car break-ins.
Creuzot says he’ll decline to prosecute theft of personal items worth less than $750 unless the theft was for financial gain. He says he’s in the process of dismissing all misdemeanor marijuana cases filed before he took office with a few exceptions including those where a deadly weapon was used. And he’ll stop prosecuting most first-time marijuana offenses and some misdemeanors that he believes often stem from poverty.
We remind Creuzot that most poor people in this city are law-abiding citizens. And sometimes, petty criminals escalate their activities to more serious offenses when enforcement is slack on more minor crimes.
We’ll be watching to see how the new policy plays out. We hope Creuzot’s willing to make necessary adjustments along the way.
Justice requires an equitable system where people can atone for their mistakes and live productive lives. But the goal also has be the protection of the sense of communal safety that is the first principle of a civil society.