Is Ulster Ready to be "Smart on Crime?"

The debate between being tough or soft on crime has no value in the criminal justice conversation today; other than as a political distraction and red herring. Forward-thinking communities across the country have implemented “Smart on Crime” policies and have experienced decreases in incarceration rates and crime rates at the same time.

Smart on crime policies aim to drive down incarceration rates in the US which are the highest in the world, encourage alternatives to criminalization and incarceration for low level non-violent offenders, bolster prevention efforts, and ensure that finite resources are devoted to prosecuting dangerous criminals. Smart on crime is not about punishing every offender the same, but using consequences as a tool to make our community safer and stronger. A key to reducing jail populations is diverting people with substance abuse disorders and mental health problems away from the justice system, while allowing mental health and substance abuse professionals to provide treatment.

For decades, research has consistently shown that mass incarceration and law have a negative impact on public safety. Our overuse of jails to punish non-violent offenders causes family separation, untreated mental health and substance abuse disorders, creates a greater risk of reoffending, and wastes tax payer dollars. Leaders in criminal justice reform, regardless of political party affiliation, have instituted smart on crime approaches. Fifty-two jurisdictions have committed to reducing jail populations as part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. Sadly, Ulster County is not one of them.

Not only has the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office failed to implement Smart on Crime, it has opposed newly enacted laws promoting criminal justice reform while sounding false alarms that these reforms are dangerously “soft on crime”. It’s time to move beyond soundbites and false choices between being either tough on crime or soft on crime, and focus instead, on being smart on crime. I’m Dave Clegg and I’m running to be your next Ulster County District Attorney. I believe Ulster County is more than ready to be Smart on Crime.

Dave Clegg brings four decades of experience practicing criminal defense, and nine years as an Ulster County Public Defender. He has fought for the rights of victims his entire career. Dave is the Chairperson of the Ulster county Human Rights Commission and has been a leader in our community for decades.

Originally featured in-print by Hudson Valley One, 9/6/19