How a brand new district attorney is shaking up the justice machine in midcoast Maine

Shortly after she becomes elected district attorney for Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Waldo, and Knox counties in November, Natasha Irving despatched a memo to assistant district legal professionals and law enforcement organizations informing them of large modifications in how her workplace would prosecute crime.
Following a campaign promise, Irving stated she might seek restorative justice solutions in all but the most violent instances.

Restorative justice is a concept of justice that emphasizes repairing the damage due to crook behavior. One of its foundational principles is that the humans affected by the crime should have the ability to participate in its resolution. Currently, restorative justice is integrated into the criminal justice gadget within the 4 midcoast counties, typically via applications operated with the aid of the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, a Belfast-based nonprofit agency.

Restorative justice “has been shown to lessen recidivism greatly; that is one in every one of our top priorities,” Irving wrote. Irving based her policy on research through the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and public coverage institute at New York University Law School. She additionally studied a model utilized by the Penobscot Nation on Indian Island that relies on “the most updated criminal justice technology, which tells us a multi-faceted technique [works].”

Prosecutors might make extra use of mental health and substance abuse treatment — together with a proposed drug court within the midcoast district — and bear in mind the “collateral outcomes” of jail — lack of MaineCare after 30 days, both for the wrongdoer and the offender’s youngsters, ability lack of employment and housing, among other requirements — whilst making a decision to prosecute or are trying to find prison time.


Jail as a remaining motel

Among the extra debatable modifications, Irving stated prosecutors could are trying to find deferred inclinations for all shoplifting offenses, and “each suitable depend for defendants age 25 and below,” as well as first-offense running beneath the impact expenses wherein the operator allegedly tested at less than a zero. Eleven blood alcohol content. For a fee of working underneath the impact with a take a look at that indicates a low level of impairment (less than 0.Eleven blood alcohol content), the prosecutor will be searching for a deferred disposition of six months to encompass substance use counseling. If defendants have “good final results,” they’ll plead to the lesser charge of riding to hazard, pay a $575 best, and serve a 30-day license suspension.

A “horrific outcome” could set off “open sentencing,” which means prosecutors should ask for, and judges should impose, any sentence inside prison pointers. “Alcoholism is a far more potent ailment than jail, or a first-class is going to treatment,” Irving stated for the duration of a current interview. “Criminal justice can try and divert them to treatment. Jail has been verified now not to be effective. Jail and prison are for public protection, not to try to change conduct.”

Deferred inclinations and different restorative justice measures are not suitable for sex offenses, severe domestic violence offenses, or other violent offenses for high-hazard offenders or those charged with baby pornography crimes. She charged assistant district lawyers with persevering to prosecute “serious violent and dangerous offenses” in a “zealous” way. But for “non-violent and non-dangerous offenders,” she wrote, the jail must be a remaining motel because of the price to taxpayers, and due to the fact prison “is one of the best infringements on personal liberty imposed by way of the state of Maine.”

Just 4 years after being admitted to the bar, Irving and her restorative justice platform received a disappointing victory over Republican Jonathan Liberman, who became appointed in 2017 to update longtime District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau, appointed to the District Court bench using former Gov. Paul LePage. But Irving, a Democrat, determined that enforcing restorative justice to be quite arguably among regulation enforcement and a piece extra difficult to promote in a few counties than being elected were.

The transition turned into mainly hard for regulation enforcement in Sagadahoc County, Irving stated — in part because Waldo County is home to the Restorative Justice Center, and Irving has “roots” in Knox and Lincoln counties. Irving grew up in Waldoboro and attended faculty with children whose dad and mom “were inside and outside of jail,” she said. She later studied philosophy at a Jesuit university. “Jesuits trust in liberation philosophy,” she said.

“I met a whole lot of individuals who had huge ideas of a higher justice machine. I’ve constantly believed in restorative justice. Our justice device is excellent and works clearly nicely for positive kinds of crime, however [for] such a lot of types, it’s disproportionately punitive to terrible and marginalized people. I commenced to surprise, what would my rural Maine network appear like [with restorative justice].”

Some of Irving’s plans — deferred dispositions for first OUI prices, for instance — created what Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said have been initially “disgruntled” officers. Merry suspected there was a miscommunication, so he invited Irving to speak at a department meeting. Deputies had questions and discussed with Irving some of the guidelines, but Merry stated that following the meeting, numerous deputies thanked him and stated, “I see in which she’s coming from.”

“Cops will usually gravitate to the worst-case scenario,” he stated. “It’s no longer a terrible factor — we must be the guardians of safety and have consistent vigilance … We recognize the importance of taking drunk[en] drivers off the street. We additionally understand there’s a quite big cost to a drunk[en] using conviction. This commercial enterprise around … not prosecuting [a blood alcohol content of] zero.08, zero.09 … We can bemoan it, but it’s been taking place in Cumberland County and York County for a long term — we’re no longer used to it in the Sixth District.”

Deputy Chief Robert Savary of the Bath Police Department said that he and Chief Michael Field are “just nonetheless gambling the wait-and-see game.” Savary said some of his officers had expressed a situation approximately the cease result after they arrested a person; however, the branch will retain to implement legal guidelines as they usually have. “Down the road may want to it cause frustration? Yeah, however, we’re still in the feeling-it-out duration,” he said.

“We’ve been telling the men, ‘They’ve been managing this form of the component in Cumberland County for years,’” Savary said. “We’ve continually thought it turned into loopy, however now we’ve got somebody in right here who isn’t going to prosecute as aggressively. The citizens decided. Our philosophy is that if they’re inebriated and running a motor automobile, we will maintain them responsibly and arrest them while suitable. Where it goes from, there’s the type of out of our palms.” One of the more notable selections Irving has made for taking office was to decline to prosecute 25 peace activists arrested for protesting outside Bath Iron Works for the duration of the christening of a destroyer.

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