The decision by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to not file low-level misdemeanor cases promotes public safety and furthers the county’s commitment to equity and social justice.
There is no evidence that prosecuting individuals for these crimes makes our community safer. Instead, individuals who are prosecuted are saddled with convictions and fines that make it harder for them to get jobs or find housing. In turn, they find themselves more deeply enmeshed in an ineffective and costly criminal-justice system.
There is, however, ample evidence that people who are poor and from communities of color are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for these quality-of-life offenses. This disproportionality is reason enough to stop prosecuting these crimes. Given King County’s oft-stated commitment to racial and economic equity, we should have ended such prosecutions long ago out of principle, not due to staff shortages. We should instead be seeking to address the root causes that lead to these public-disorder problems: a lack of affordable housing, food and treatment for those who need and want it.
Lorinda Youngcourt, Seattle, director, King County Department of Public Defense