It’s not everyday that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, police officers and mental health professionals get the opportunity to share experiences and learn about best practices from each other. But several attorneys in the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office were able to do just that at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Conference in the Washington, DC area in August.
“[When] we come together like this, we’re not adversaries anymore. We’re not trying to fight against each other,” Pilar Borneo, Assistant District Attorney in the Metro Division said. “We’re trying to work together to come up with the best outcome for the participants. We are all facing similar issues and we really do have to work better together.”
The three-day conference had various sessions such as “Ethics and Legal Issues for
Judges and Attorneys,” “Discovery, Dropout Prevention vs. Recovery, Relapse Prevention:
Doing Treatment and Change, Not Doing Time” and “Improving the Justice System
Response to Mental Illness: Innovations and Best Practices.” Borneo, who typically prosecutes misdemeanor cases including domestic violence, DWI cases, fraud and theft, said the sessions helped give her a better perspective of complex issues impacting the judicial system.
“We all have the common goal of trying to better the system, trying to make sure that we are focusing more on rehabilitating rather than punishing,” Borneo said. “[Now we have some solutions to] fix the underlying issues on our streets rather than just punishing people, releasing them and hoping it doesn’t happen again.”
Rehabilitation is one of the main focuses in the District Attorney’s Pre-Prosecution Diversion (PPD) Program that is preadjudicated, meaning people can enter the program before they are arrested. It is an option for offenders with little or no criminal history and the current charge cannot be a violent crime. While in the program, Defendants check-in daily with their PPD officers, updating them on things like counseling sessions, job applications and drug intervention programs.
“We’re trying to help, we’re trying to rehabilitate them and we’re trying to better ourselves as we go along,” Borneo said.
Trial attorney Emily Bowen who also attended the conference, said punishing people for crimes such as drug use or possession without addressing the reason why they did it is ineffective prosecuting.
“It’s very rare that defendants are simply just bad people. They have difficult life circumstances and weren’t given the tools to better them,” Bowen said. “If we give them that opportunity, I think it’s better for everyone, victims included.”
She said the conference reinforced her passion for finding alternatives to incarceration to help address the root of many underlying needs defendants experience.
“[Conferences] like this are important for not only prosecutors, but all people working in the specialty court sphere,” Bowen said.
Talking to people who may have already addressed issues we’re currently facing and take parts of what has been successful and implement it into our program is essential in the work we do, Bowen said.