Implementing Smart Strategies for Drug Prosecution
As a staff prosecutor for our drug treatment courts in Mecklenburg County, Spencer Merriweather has seen how a collaborative effort from criminal justice system partners can help struggling citizens break the cycle of addiction and begin the road to recovery. As a prosecutor, he has used the courts as a vehicle for recovery rather than incarceration for those suffering from addiction.
Our trial courts should be prioritized for drug dealers who prey on people suffering with addiction by feeding their habit for profit. Those who traffic, sell, or possess to sell will risk substantial prison sentences. Spencer’s drug prosecution strategy will emphasize the trial of these crimes. Charging decisions will reflect this new strategy, so ample trial resources can be devoted to holding traffickers and sellers accountable.
Directing New Offenders Toward Community Engagement
Once a young person enters the criminal justice system, he/she is likely to return to that system in short time unless actively diverted away from a pattern of criminal behavior. Thoughtful prosecutors like Spencer know a criminal record itself can prevent young people from making positive contributions to a community that needs them. Many non-violent offenders find themselves in the criminal justice system because of youthful mistakes or questionable associations with others.
As District Attorney, Spencer will expand use of diversion programs for infrequent non-violent offenders. He will enlist the help of the community to mitigate costs and to increase access to these programs, allowing all of our citizens the chance to avoid a life of crime. Spencer will make certain to track recidivism rates for participants in the diversion programs and report those findings back to the community. He will ask more community organizations to help us divert young offenders from criminal behavior. Mecklenburg County is filled with outstanding, dedicated organizations that have proven track records of investing in our young people. In diversion, there exists a critical opportunity for young offenders to be connected to service providers where they live, allowing a neighborhood’s relationship with its young people to outlive a court-ordered mandate and benefit that community for a lifetime.
Giving Formerly Incarcerated Individuals A Fresh Start
Our entire community loses every time someone commits a crime. Neighborhoods and residents lose their sense of security. Offenders lose because they must suffer the consequences associated with being held accountable for committing a crime. Yet, even after paying their debt to society, ex-offenders have a difficult time reentering the workplace and community. Too often we continue to punish ex-offenders even after they have been released from prison and probation. A criminal record becomes a life sentence outside of prison walls. Former offenders who demonstrate a commitment to being law abiding citizens deserve a chance at a new beginning.
As District Attorney, Spencer will also encourage all prosecutors in his office to identify those conditions that give an offender the best opportunity to change behavior after a sentence has concluded. For some, severe prisons sentences will be necessary. But for many others, sentences can be structured in a manner that offers the appropriate time, space, and direction to confront the underlying causes of criminal behavior.
A key component to fighting crime and keeping our community safe is the restoration of offenders to a law-abiding life. In 2017, N.C. Governor Roy Cooper signed a law that makes it easier for some low-level felony offenders and non-violent misdemeanor offenders to expunge their criminal records. As District Attorney, Spencer has already proposed a partnership with other court system officials to open an “expungement clinic” in the courthouse to help qualifying citizens pursue expungement. Clean records will lift any remaining constraints on their ability to make full contributions to our community.