When Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley was invited to speak to the National District Attorneys Association by a national research/advocacy group, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, her educational roots were abundantly clear. She demonstrated a spot-on understanding of human development and the critical importance of early interventions to prevent crimes.
She told the assembled group that the traditional role of district attorneys was to “clean up the mess.”
“On a good day, our community feels justice was served,” she said. “On a great day, our efforts helped victims become survivors.”
She said that traditional role is no longer sufficient, and that district attorneys are expected to become leaders in the field of crime prevention — to fight crime by prosecuting criminals and investing in kids.
I greatly respect and appreciate the approach she took with the assembled group.
She said district attorneys have all looked into the eyes of a murderer. But she suspected that very few had had the opportunity to look into those same eyes when the murderer was a child. Think of the power if that could be the case, and preventive steps could be taken.
Dudley cited a murderer she prosecuted a few years ago. She said that murderer, as a child, had been the victim of vicious homophobic bullying. She said she also prosecuted a child abuser a few years ago and now one of his abused children was recently arrested for rape.
“In my mind, both cases stood for the proposition that to fight crime we must invest in kids,” Dudley said. “If I had been there to stop the bullying and the abuse when those violent offenders were still children, I could have had a fighting chance to stop those later crimes from every occurring.”
She admonished the group of district attorneys to become those leaders in the field of crime prevention, and she laid out a very specific list of particulars to support — high-quality preschool education, enticing after-school programs, especially at the junior high level, and truancy programs that re-engage the alienated student.
Most impressive about her talk to this esteemed group were the echoes we hear from the educational establishment about the importance of these very issues. What has been missing from the educational argument is the hard facts about crime and the resultant costs to society, from a prosecutor with the vision and understanding to lay out the case so clearly.
I salute her approach and look forward to having our offices collaborate to the shared goal of preventing crime by investing in kids — especially those who are abused, bullied or neglected. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also in our community’s best interests. As Benjamin Franklin said so wisely, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.