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Cumberland DA Sahrbeck: Let’s continue with our progress in criminal justice reform

I decided to run for Cumberland County district attorney in 2018 with a mission to effect positive and practical change to our criminal justice system and address challenges like substance use disorder, mental health issues, domestic violence, elder and child abuse and human trafficking. Three years as district attorney and we’ve made significant progress by working together. At the same time, I know we can do more, and I want to continue this work as your district attorney.

After reflecting upon my own values and considering the mission of our office, and at the urging of several of my fellow district attorneys in Maine, I made the decision several months ago to enroll in the Democratic Party. Although the work of the District Attorney’s Office should always be apolitical (which is why I previously ran as an independent), my values and my hope for the future of this office reflect Democratic values, including the pursuit of much-needed criminal justice reform.

Meaningful criminal justice reform includes cash bail reform and decarceration, but it’s also about preventive measures to help people avoid the criminal justice system. When I became the district attorney, I immediately began to try to break down walls between resources and those who need them. I was eager to address mental health issues and prevent the onset of substance use disorder side by side with community leaders.

Some of my first actions as district attorney included implementation of new programs to tackle these issues and focus on helping victims, reducing defendant recidivism and increasing diversion from the criminal justice system. I believe wellness and access are the pillars we need to build a safer county, so I established a restorative justice diversion program, a Veterans Treatment Court to accompany our long-established Drug Treatment Court and the Cumberland County Coalition on Substance Use Prevention – a substance use disorder networking group for community partners, recovery advocates and treatment providers. I continue the necessary work to improve access to mental health services for defendants through our county Mental Health Languishing Committee, while also working with housing advocates to help connect people experiencing homelessness with safe housing.

Domestic violence is a precursor for half of all homicides in Maine, which is why I added a domestic violence prosecutor and victim witness advocate to my office. This renewed focus can provide better outcomes for victims and the community as a whole. We have also strengthened our relationship with domestic violence advocates like Through These Doors and the Violence Intervention Partnership.

Prosecutors do not make the laws. Despite that, we provide a very important role in legislative efforts to adopt practical reforms, which can help many people involved in the criminal justice system. As an effort to help make positive legislative changes, I worked closely with state legislators from Cumberland County to help draft legislation on sex trafficking, mental health issues and reforms of the cash bail system.

I am proud of the prosecutors and staff in the District Attorney’s Office and their work in our community. You can be proud that these compassionate and professional individuals are helping keep us safe and serving chronically marginalized members of our community. Together we spearheaded racial equity training for state prosecutors with Mindbridge to examine implicit bias, anti-racism and data collection within the District Attorney’s office. This year, we assembled a series of training sessions to learn about the long-term implications of Adverse Childhood Experiences, since over 70 percent of individuals in the criminal justice system have an ACE score of 4 or higher. These actions are only possible thanks to the support of my office, community partners and law enforcement, who share the same vision of a safer, healthier Cumberland County.

We have more work to do to realize all of our goals, and I know we can get there together with continued communication, coordination and cooperation with all members of our community.

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