Sacramento, CA – There is an open seat for the Sacramento DA in 2022 as incumbent Anne Marie Schubert is running for attorney general and that opens the field for two candidates—Assistant Chief Deputy DA Thien Ho and Alana Mathews, a former prosecutor working now for the Prosecutor’s Alliance.
On Saturday Sac 4 The People organized a candidates forum covering a series of questions on legal issues facing our youth and immigrant communities. The forum was moderated by Sonseeahray Tonsall from Fox 40.
Both candidates have noteworthy backgrounds.
Tien Ho said, “The focus of today’s form is immigration and juvenile justice. I know about the immigrant experience, not from reading about it in a book or talking to people I know about it because I have lived it.”
Born in Vietnam, in 1976, “my parents, my brother and I, along with 30 other refugees, crammed onto a tiny, small fishing boat and crossed the South China Sea to escape to freedom.”
For Alana Mathews, she was “born and raised in one of the murder capitals of this country—Gary, Indiana, an urban steel mill town, where violence and crime ran rampant throughout the entire city.”
She said, “My parents taught me that my only chance at a better future was to get good grades and go to college.”
She explained that her hard work allowed her to get accepted to a prestigious college prep school at the age of 16. The first few weeks after arriving, she went for a walk and “I remember hearing a truck pull up in the street and then it slowed down. And then I remember hearing the young men inside called me the N word, the B word, and telling me to go back to Africa. I was shocked, confused, and then the truck stopped and they got out and I was terrified for my life. So I took off running.”
She told the administrators what happened, and “their response was, well, you shouldn’t have been walking alone.”
She said, “I learned two things that day. One, I may not be safe no matter where I live. And two, the justice system may not always be available for me.”
The first question: How do you plan to ensure that immigrants are not double punished by both the criminal court system and immigration legal system?
Alana Mathews laid out five points. First, “I want to help prosecutors understand and consider immigration consequences for criminal offenses at every phrase of a criminal justice proceeding.”
She added, “I also believe we ought to be open to working with defense attorneys, to find immigration neutral outcomes for non-citizen defendants, for offenses that have the same level of severity and exposure, which means immigrants can be held accountable for any harm that they cause without suffering the double punishment that you talked about. “
Tien Ho responded with “the district attorney’s office actually employs many of those five different factors already.”
He noted that he oversees the post-conviction justice and integrity training unit.
“In that unit, we, for example, review cases where somebody has been convicted and is now facing deportation because of that conviction,” Ho said.
He explained the case of a person who committed a crime 20 years ago at the age of 19, that person now has a business, a family, “so what we did was we actually went back, talked to the judge and basically undid the conviction and allowed them to take accountability for their crime and plead to a crime and a conviction that did not affect their deportation status.”
Second question: What policies will you establish to divert low level non-violent persons from conviction and deportation to treatment and rehabilitation programs that address the root causes of crime?
Tien Ho said, “I want to start a restorative, neighborhood court.”
He explained, “So what we would do is instead of taking that case and filing charges, we would divert it away to a neighborhood court where it’s being run by members of the community.”
He added, “And if the individual abides by those conditions, those charges are never filed. And in fact, the records of arrests are then sealed. So this is an opportunity for people to not get, get involved and not become immersed in the criminal justice system, but rather turn their lives around and provide justice.
“And that program is actually being used in Yolo County at this time. The recidivism rate for those type of low level non-violent offenses is lower than actually going through the criminal justice system.”
Alana Matthews explained that “before you can have a program, you have to establish a policy that puts in place the voices of the immigrant communities and centers them so that they can have trust to participate in whatever programs that you have.”
She noted that in communities where immigrants suffer from mental health and other physical disabilities can be treated, “we know that there’s deep distrust in communities.”
She explained, “To divert them away from deportation and treatment, I would have several diversion programs. You can have a pre-arrest program. I’d like to work with community leaders in law enforcement. Before a case is even referred to the DA’s office, they have the opportunity to get connected with service providers.
“It’s not a one size fits all,” she added. “You have to meet people where they are in their substance abuse or in their mental abilities, or maybe there’s some other reason. Maybe there’s some trauma that they have suffered.”
Third question: “At $50,000 in median bail, California is the highest in the nation. As of July, 2021, nearly four out of five persons are sitting in jail pre-trial meaning they have not been convicted of a crime as of yet … (this) disproportionately impacts communities of color, including immigrants. What is your plan for bail reform?”
For Alana Mathews, she made it clear that anyone who commits an act of violence on another person or otherwise there is clear and convincing evidence that they represent a high risk to public safety, “they should not be released period.”
She said, “It’s important to make this point at the outset, because when we start talking about bail reform, there’s a narrative to conflate or confuse a more thoughtful approach about who gets released with an assumption that that means everybody gets released.”
She said, “That includes prioritizing a risk to public safety over their personal financial means. Our current cash bail system is fundamentally unfair because it would allow a wealthy person who poses a high risk of danger to be released while forcing someone of less means to remain in jail for a low level offense.”
She added that “we need a more equitable approach to pretrial detention decisions that should be based on a person’s risk to public safety.”
Tien Ho said, “I want to start off first by saying this. I think it’s fundamentally unfair for a person who is poor to be in custody, pending their case while a person who is rich or has the financial means to be out of custody.”
He said, “The system of bail that we have needs to be based upon public safety and risk assessment.” He added, “We need to have a risk assessment, not a monetary assessment, but a risk assessment in regards to whether or not this person poses a threat to public safety.”
Tien Ho also addressed zero bail, which he said is in place but has been modified.
“There were 5,000 people released on zero bail. Of those 5,000, 1700, approximately, recommitted additional offenses, including domestic violence and murder. So when we’re looking at zero bail, which is now modified based upon efforts by my office, including myself, we have to have a system, a bail in place that ensures public safety and risk assessment.”
Fourth question: “What will you do to revisit cases of people who are convicted before the age of 25 and are still serving long sentences further? How will you support their release rehabilitation and return to our community?”
Tien Ho responded, “We actually have a unit and programs that actually engage in that sort of analysis. Under PC section 1170, and other provisions that have been passed by the legislation the last couple of years, we engage in that process.”
He gave an example of one such case, “because I think people will point to our office and say we don’t do any of that, but we actually do.”
He gave the example of a woman who was convicted for robbing her “John” but they discovered that “she was also a victim of human trafficking. She was also a victim of sexual abuse.”
They worked with the defense on that case to resentence her.
Alana Mathews pointed out two factors.
First, she said, “One is the age of 25 and that’s important because when we’re talking about transforming our justice system and bringing meaningful change, we have to realize that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the person is 25 years old.”
She also noted that AB 2942, a law that was passed in 2018, “gave the prosecutors the ability to go back and make recommendations to the court.” She said, “That’s important because the sponsors of that bill recognized that there have been past harms based on like the war on drugs, disproportionate sentences that were impacting communities of color. So, it’s great to have that awareness now, but we have to realize the practices that have caused people to have unjust sentences and to be convicted and served.”
Mathews pointed out that it’s important to “develop a policy of identifying the criteria so we don’t have these one-offs.”
Last preset question: “If elected, how do you plan to support prevention services for justice-impacted youth, aside from what’s already being done to keep them in the same cycle of criminalization?”
Alana Mathews explained, “I think it’s imperative that when we open up our system of justice, that we have approaches that are just not reactive to crime, but we have prevention and intervention strategies, especially because the research shows that youth are very malleable and they have the greatest propensity and capacity to rehabilitate.”
Her first solution for opening up the system is to have two pre-plea diversion programs for youth. One is a restorative justice program. And then she said, “I would also propose that we have a youth, a transformative youth program, and this is something I actually proposed when I was at the DA’s office.”
Tien Ho explained, “One third of children who are in the foster care system, when they time out of the system, they become homeless. So we have children that are in the dependency and delinquency system that when they time out, they become homeless, they get cycled again and again, in a criminal justice system and in homelessness.”
He recommended job training “when they’re still in the dependency system.