Electing Prosecuting Attorneys: Why You(th) Matter(s)
There are two significant prosecuting attorney races happening in Washington state this November 8th, one in King County and one in Spokane County. For many voters, and especially young people, it may be difficult to meaningfully participate in this election because it’s hard to understand what the job of a prosecutor is all about.
To address this topic, we are excited to partner with young people at Glover Empower Mentoring Program (GEM) and The Washington Bus on October 26th to offer an informational session on how the Prosecuting Attorney can impact your community, particularly youth. This event, created by youth for youth, will be from 6-8PM at Kent Phoenix Academy, 11000 SE 264th Street in Kent. Register HERE for in-person and online options.
For a quick preview of what these young organizers have in mind, watch the video they created to promote the event.
Who Are Prosecuting Attorneys?
The role of prosecuting attorneys has changed over the years and it can have a significant impact on how our community responds to our individual and collective needs. The most basic part of the job is to prosecute, or bring criminal charges, for all alleged criminal conduct in a particular county. In King County the elected Prosecuting Attorney oversees a staff of hundreds of assistant prosecuting attorneys who are present in every criminal court room representing us, the “state” or the “people” in prosecuting an individual who is charged with a crime. Prosecuting Attorneys have significant power to influence and decide the way our system responds to alleged criminal activity that can impact how people live and thrive in the community.
The prosecuting attorney has the authority to make a number of significant decisions, based on information given to them by police. These decisions include who to charge, how many people to charge, what charges to bring (they can choose between felonies or misdemeanors), and then ultimately what kind of punishment to seek in response to the charge. These are hugely impactful decisions largely held within the purview of one singular, elected role.
Alternatives to Incarceration: Where Prosecuting Attorneys Can Fit In
More than charging in individual cases, the prosecuting attorney can decide whether to allow people to be diverted from prosecution in the first place. Diversion means that the individual is not charged, but is instead referred to community-based interventions that provide support and services that are centered on addressing the underlying needs of the individual to prevent future behavior that could be charged as crimes. The prosecuting attorney not only decides on a case-by-case basis which individuals can be diverted, the office of the Prosecuting Attorney can invest financially in diversion programs and opportunities that expand the number of people who can have an opportunity at being diverted from court. In other words, Prosecuting Attorneys have the power to charge with a crime, but also have the power to propose and fund alternatives to incarceration that have a meaningful impact not just on individuals but the health of our communities.
Some prosecuting attorneys are invested in reforming the criminal justice system, based on their own observations of where the system could be improved. Diverting folks out of court and into community could ultimately help save money for the county by reducing the number of people who are incarcerated. These investments could also help to ensure that individuals get the help they need, like treatment or housing or employment. Those interventions can help people build the supports they need to be in the community without behavior that may lead to criminal charges – breaking harmful cycles and charting a new course for people.
3 Things You Can Do Now
Read / View these resources
To learn more about why these elections are so important, you can watch a NowThis video about the power of the Prosecutor (also in some states called a District Attorney).
Many years ago, the current King County Prosecuting Attorney, agreed to an investment in a diversion program called the 180 Program. That program is now a larger community based organization called Choose 180. But at the beginning, it was a program that the prosecuting attorney’s office really invested in. Learn more in this KingCountyTV video about how a prosecuting attorney’s office influences our response to community need.
Attend TeamChild’s livestream Prosecuting Attorney youth-led forum
This event is by young people, for young people but we encourage adults to attend and amplify youth voice! Register for the livestream link HERE.
We hope you will vote this November 8th. We hope you will think about TeamChild’s mission and values and goals for the young people in our community and their families when you vote. Consider the ways each candidate might support our mission and values or not. To learn more about how to register to vote, check out Washington State Online Voter Registration.