The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
Tonight, some 1,900 men and women will go to bed in our jail. The highest percentage are there for low level, nonviolent offenses, many involving very small amounts of drugs. The jail is frustratingly a warehouse of the poor, mentally ill and people of color.
Next year, like last year and the year before, more than 50% of Pima County’s budget will go to law and order. Potholes go unfilled, health clinics underfunded, and little to nothing will be done about property and financial crimes because we have been too busy fighting a wasteful war on drug addicts instead of increasing treatment to keep our community safe and sound. This must change. Our community needs a county attorney ready to confront these issues and bring us responsible reform.
I say all this as a longtime Tucsonan. I was a babe in arms and my mother expecting my little brother Jason when we arrived. She so loved the Old Pueblo, she made me bilingual, not because she was (she is not), but because she wanted us to live, play and work here for a lifetime. For 16 years, I have practiced criminal justice in state and federal court. I have advocated for defendants and victims, and I have seen how desperately our community needs reform.
As a woman who built her own small business, I cannot in good conscience sit back and watch our tax dollars wasted. We need a county attorney who will re-frame our priorities. We cannot keep using our jails to warehouse poor people. We cannot continue prosecuting people for being mentally ill while not prosecuting those who actually harm us. The office has not had a financial crimes unit in 20 years, and the consequence has been devastating. Fraud and scam artists have set up shop, quite literally, to take advantage of our parents and grandparents, robbing them of their pensions and 401(k)s.
There is a big difference between talking reform and actually implementing it. I have spent my entire career walking alongside defendants and victims and their families, fighting to ensure they are treated fairly under the law.
In the last 44 years, we have had two county attorneys. It is time for an attorney outside the agency to lead the next generation of attorneys with a bold and brave vision to protect our environment, help working families living in substandard housing, and ensure our neighborhoods are being policed fairly. She should talk to marginalized communities, listen to the stories of neighbors who have lost entire generations of young men to mass incarceration and work with crime victims to achieve truly restorative justice.
This new Pima County Attorney should not be an absentee figurehead of a system set on automatic pilot. She should meet regularly with administrators, law enforcement officers and legislators to help craft laws abolishing the death penalty, restoring voting rights and amending mandatory minimum sentencing to ensure there are more people in prison for fraud and rape and murder than for drug possession. Finally.
I believe in Pima County. As a woman raised in this community, I believe we all want much the same thing. Safe neighborhoods. Clean air and water. Just laws. We want a justice system that works for us and protects us, regardless of the color of our skin or how much money is in our wallet. We want to go to bed at night with the faith that tomorrow will be better than today, and Pima County will protect and nurture our children. In 2020, I plan to be the Pima County Attorney we deserve.
Laura Conover is a longtime Tucsonan and candidate for Pima County Attorney.