Guest Commentary: Expanding the Toolkit to Make Our Communities Safer

True public safety comes from interventions that address the root causes of crime

By Sajid A. Khan

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a Primary Caregiver Diversion law. It created a pathway for parents and caregivers accused of certain crimes to have their charges dismissed if they complete rehabilitative programs such as parenting, anger management and financial literacy classes. The law aimed to prevent counterproductive, harmful family separation while helping parents and caregivers develop critical tools to raise the children they care for.

This is an example of well thought out, progressive improvement to our legal system. Unfortunately, this policy has not benefited a single person in Santa Clara County. Our current district attorney Jeff Rosen, has failed to implement it, along with a multitude of other smart reforms.

For too long, our legal system has bypassed individualized, evidence-based interventions — such as the policy outlined above for parents and caregivers. Instead, we continue to rely on punitive and lengthy sentences that do little to prevent future harm, support survivors or hold those who commit harm accountable.

When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. It’s no wonder California continues to incarcerate more people per capita than virtually any democracy on earth, an approach that has not made our communities safer.

Rosen’s tenure has fallen short because he prioritizes convictions and incarceration. His office measures justice by boasting of high conviction rates and long prison sentences rather than solving the root causes of gang and gun crimes, sexual and family violence, hate crimes, retail theft and residential burglaries.

A counterproductive cycle results: A crime is committed. The DA’s office files charges, and the accused person is brought to court, often in shackles because they cannot afford bail. The assigned DA — driven by an office culture that prioritizes conviction rates above all else — doesn’t ask why the harm occurred or what interventions would be necessary to prevent the harm from happening again.

Instead they only fixate on securing a conviction, often using threats of additional penalties and punishment. There’s usually a guilty plea coupled with a jail or prison sentence. Meanwhile, the conditions leading to the harm — a person living in poverty, suffering from mental health issues or other challenges — go untreated. Crime continues. All of us are less safe.

It’s time for a new direction and new leadership willing to use tools that prevent and solve harm in our county. I am running for district attorney because true public safety comes from interventions that address the root causes of crime, not a narrow focus on conviction rates and incarceration.

The Primary Caregiver Diversion program, for example, would be an effective systems response. I would implement it here in Santa Clara County.

And the district attorney has additional tools to prevent harm and reduce recidivism: restorative justice, mental health treatment and other alternatives to incarceration. We can hold people accountable while also promoting healing and rehabilitation.

For instance, when someone commits a burglary or retail theft, we will look at the full picture of the person’s background — perhaps mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness or childhood trauma — that contributed to the harmful behavior. With that vital context, we can address root causes underlying the incident and facilitate the necessary treatment and services to ensure the harm never happens again.

At the same time, we will honor survivors of harm with meaningful resources and trauma-informed services so their pain doesn’t spread outward into our larger communities.

These responses — more creative and effective than simply convicting and locking people up — will stop the cycle that causes crime, make our communities safer and help us enjoy the security we all deserve.

Sajid A. Khan is a Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender and a candidate for Santa Clara County District Attorney.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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