By Robert J. Hansen
Sacramento, CA – Candidates for Sacramento County District Attorney Thein Ho and Alana Mathews faced off again in an online forum hosted by Sac 4 The People last Saturday.
Moderated by Sonseeahray Tonsall of Fax 40, the candidates answered questions focused on racial equity and restorative justice.
Ho thinks the cause of racial disparities in the criminal justice system is reflected by the racial inequities observed in the rest of society.
Between 2017 and 2018, Sacramento County filed nearly 10,000 cases and Black people made up roughly 28 percent of those charged by the Sacramento District Attorney’s office despite only accounting for 13 percent of the population, according to the Northern California ACLU.
“A system of justice needs to be free from bias, discrimination, and prejudice. One thing we need is training,” Ho said. “Making sure there is no bias. In addition to that is education on intergenerational toxicity that people experience daily.”
Mathews said limiting action to training and no measurement of improvement after attorneys have been trained on racial bias.
“There’s no measurement to say where we were before we had this training and where we were afterward. What I would do is mark the metrics by having a data dashboard of who you’re charging, what the demographics are so you can see if there are any trends,” Mathews said. “I would implement race-blind charging. That is a way to address those implicit biases.”
Stanford University partnered with Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig to create the race-blind charging algorithm.
Mathews’ plan to implement restorative justice diversion programs for all people, not just those under the age of 26, is to have community courts for low-level offenders.
“I think it’s an excellent idea and it is long overdue,” Mathews said. “I don’t think we need to limit restorative justice for the youth. What’s most important about a restorative justice program is you have to acknowledge the harm, you have to commit to not committing harm in the future and you have to do what you can to restore the person you have harmed.”
Ho agreed that restorative justice should not be limited to age.
“We should afford that opportunity to a person regardless of their age,” Ho said. “I’ve talked to one of those in charge in Yolo County who runs a neighborhood court and learned about the model they’re using in Yolo.”
Ho said the recidivism rate for Yolo’s neighborhood court has very low recidivism rates.
“It starts with accountability to the victim. We always have to remember the victim and that they are restored to justice,” Ho said.
Tonsall said 92 percent of people who receive gang enhancements in California are people of color and that AB 333 seeks to make changes to the law to reduce racist applications of the law.
Ho said he would reduce the application of gang enhancements if elected DA.
“We also have to look at the other side of that coin that a high percentage of victims from that 92 percent are also people of color,” Ho said. “We can’t just be reacting to crime. We need to try to stop people from getting into gangs in the first place.”
“There have been some attempts to try to imitate some of the policies that I’ve put forward,” Mathews said. “It’s very important to look at the history of someone who has been in the prosecutor’s office and ask why now they are just mentioning restorative justice and reducing gang enhancement.”
Mathews said the spirit of AB 333 was to address the disparities because gang enhancements were being used with low-level offenses.
“What we have seen in Sacramento County is there have not been efforts of prevention,” Mathews said. “That’s why crime is exploding. We have to look at the reality of what we are facing and it doesn’t happen by mentioning three people who run two programs in one neighborhood.”
Ho said he plans on making it available to the public but also creating an advisory plan to make recommendations based on the data.
“Because having the data is one thing but then taking that and giving it to an advisory board to look at that data and coming up with what to do with that data is important,” Ho said.
Mathews said the NAACP has requested that information from the Sacramento County DA’s office and was denied.
“I will be proactive and make the data available,” Mathews said.
In his closing statement, Ho said the District Attorney is the attorney for every citizen and his experience gives him the proper judgment to be a DA.
“I have the experience in the courtroom, the executive room, in the courtroom, and in the community,” Ho said. “And I would be honored to have your vote and your support.”
“I have been leading in this race simply because my resume has been the defining qualifications of what the next DA should be. I’ve brought the classroom into the community, worked with those at risk of being homeless, worked on alternatives for 911,” Mathews said. “It’s my experience of being in the community where I’ve mentored women on parole. Those have been the defining qualities and those have been the results that we need as the next leader in the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office.”