I recently came across an opinion piece in the Midland Times authored by Laura Nodolf, the District Attorney for Midland, Texas, wherein she presented the question: “Where is a prosecutor’s time best spent?” In answering her own question, she presented an exemplary case for why prosecutors should advocate for criminal justice reform, especially where nonviolent drug offenders are concerned.
D.A. Nodolf first notes the rising crime rates. She placed a particular emphasis on the 192 cases filed by her office involving child victims, and noted that “that is one case approximately every three days.” Each of these cases involve a tremendous investment of a prosecutor’s time, and rightfully so. But as D.A. Nodolf explains, prosecutors are also inundated with “people who are addicted to narcotics enter the criminal justice system due to possession of controlled substances or because they have committed a non-violent crime, like shoplifting, so they can purchase controlled substances.” D.A. Nodolf asserts that “[a]s the district attorney, I have to ensure that the resources available to the prosecutors are being used as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
So how should the criminal justice system preserve resources where nonviolent drug offenders are concerned? This is where drug courts and other specialty courts are key, because these individuals are sanctioned and ensured access to treatment, all while preserving limited prosecutorial, judicial and correctional resources. As D.A. Nodolf explained, “utilizing the resources available through specialty courts provides prosecutors the time to focus necessary attention on crimes against children and dangerous offenders and still have sufficient resources remaining to properly assist victims of crime.”
She also aptly notes that incarcerating nonviolent offenders not only drains resources, but is ineffective. She explained that “warehousing non-violent offenders is costly…does not contribute positively to public safety, and does not lead the perpetrator to take responsibility for their actions.”
D.A. Nodolf’s message for reform is important, and more prosecutors should also speak up in favor of more effective criminal justice policies. Otherwise, public safety will continue to be undermined by the diversion of limited resources away from the prosecution of violent crime, particularly crimes against children.