Contra Costa DA begins next phase of criminal justice reform efforts with Vera Institute of Justice

Program promotes racial equity in prosecution and reducing the use of jails; only one of seven DA’s offices in the nation; will host six weekly podcast-styled video discussions beginning Wednesday

By Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Office of the District Attorney, Contra Costa County

Martinez, Calif. – Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announced, Monday the next phase of work with the Vera Institute of Justice. The DA’s Office first partnered with Vera in 2018 to take a critical look at the inner workings of the office through a data driven focus. Vera’s Reshaping Prosecution program offers reform minded prosecutors to opportunity to analyze their own data, policies, and practices with a lens toward reducing racial disparities and mass incarceration, delivering justice, and pursuing public safety.

According to the organization’s website, “Vera is partnering with prosecutors to put their campaign promises into action as concrete, data-informed policies and practices.”

The website continues with, “Across the country empowered communities have demanded a new approach to criminal justice by electing prosecutors committed to change. Standing on forward-looking platforms including promises of bail reform, diversion, and ending mass incarceration, a new generation of prosecutors in Chicago, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Orlando, Contra Costa, Denver, St. Louis and elsewhere are part of a small but growing cadre who understand what many Americans have also learned: that ‘tough on crime’ does not equal public safety.”

According to the organization’s Facebook page, it was founded in 1961 and “works to secure equal justice, end mass incarceration, and strengthen families and communities across America.”

The DA’s Office has shared data from the Office’s case management system from the time period of January 1, 2014 to July 30, 2019. Once the data and policy analysis are complete, Vera will present their findings and recommendations to DA Becton. After the findings have been analyzed internally and shared officewide, they will be publicly released.

“Our community is calling for a more transparent and equitable criminal justice system. I am excited to partner with Vera to work on those long-standing issues, especially around the analysis of our data. Data from any law enforcement agency tells a story,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton stated. “We need this data analysis to improve our communication with the public and our law enforcement partners. As a former judge and now district attorney, I understand the systemic issues in our county with racial disparities. We must think critically about how best to improve our operations and work with our law enforcement partners to ensure our prosecutions are just. With this partnership with Vera, we can shine a light on our practices and make informed decisions to better protect the public.”

Contra Costa is one of only seven prosecution offices nationwide participating in the Reshaping Prosecution program. Each office will have a designated internal working group that will reflect on a range of topics including: a deeper dive into the historical role of the prosecutor, working with your community and exploring what justice looks like, and discussions around building group cohesiveness to lay the foundation for successful implementation of reforms.

“Vera applauds District Attorney Becton’s commitment to racial-equity and transparency,” said Jamila Hodge, Director of the Reshaping Prosecution Program at the Vera Institute of Justice. “Our partnership will address the disparities that have impacted Black, brown, and Indigenous communities in Contra Costa County by providing analysis and policy solutions, critical steps to reduce harm, rebuild trust, and deliver the safety and justice our communities deserve.”

Training and exposure to different ways of thinking is also an important component of the partnership. For six weeks, beginning October 7th, Vera will host a weekly podcast-styled video discussion series focused on why racial equity is integral to the prosecutorial role, and how prosecutors can center racial equity in decision making. The series will feature criminal justice experts from across the country who will cover a range of topics including: Origins of the Criminal Justice System; Centering Human Dignity; Accountability vs. Punishment; Restorative Justice; Community Well-Being; and Action Steps for Prosecutors.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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