By Miriam Raftery
July 10, 2017 (San Diego) — Genevieve Jones-Wright has served as deputy public defender in San Diego for more than a decade. Now Wright, a Democrat, has announced plans to run for District Attorney against Summer Stephan, who was recently appointed by Supervisors to fill the vacancy left by Bonnie Dumanis’ retirement.
“For far too long, we San Diegans have been at the whim of prosecutors who care more about headlines and political points than seeking justice,” Jones-Wright said at a press conference last week announcing her candidacy. She pledges to be “smart” as well as “tough” on crime, Times of San Diego reports. Her platform calls for justice, fairness, and accountability.
“Today, I answer the call of many across our county who want to see change in how we treat our homeless, our addicted and our mentally ill,” she told the press. “People who see the need for a criminal justice system that is informed by scientific research in the human condition, people who understand that mass incarceration is as expensive as it is inhumane.”
Jones-Wright says she decided to go to law school at age nine, inspired to follow in the footsteps of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who like Jones-Wright was African-American. She obtained her law school from Marshall’s alma mater, Howard University School of Law. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass media communication from the University of San Francisco. She also has roots in East County, as a graduate of Patrick Henry High School in the San Carlos area.
Besides serving as deputy public defender, she is a volunteer attorney with the California Innocence Project that works to free people who were wrongfully convicted. She is also a commissioner on San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and intervention.
She knows firsthand what it’s like to experience racial profiling, having once been stopped on her way from teaching mock trial students to her home in the Euclid area that she shares with her husband, a Navy Corpsman. Officers handcuffed her at gunpoint and searched her car with drug dogs. She later learned she’d been a victim of mistaken identity, but has indicated she believes a white person would likely have been treated differently, Voice of San Diego reported.
She points to a recent study that found people of color are stopped and searched at a higher rate than whites by San Diego Police, yet were less likely to be found with contraband. She says civic leaders ducked responsibility to address those problems. She wants better training to improve respect.
“Every resident of San Diego County deserves to feel safe at home, at work, at school, and in public,” she states on her website. “I believe that public safety does not have to come at the expense of our constitutional rights. Every victim deserves dignity, support and empowerment.”
She observes, “Child and elder abuse, domestic violence, murder, rape, and hate crimes are all on the rise in the region,” she notes. “The status quo is not working.”
She also believes the time is ripe for “progressive criminal justice reform” as voters have supported in recent local and statewide elections. The daughter of a single mom who worked in cafeterias and custodial work, Jones-Wright recalls people telling her she’d never make it to college. But she resolved, “I write my own story.” Now she wants to continue that story as District Attorney, though she faces an uphill battle, since the office has customarily been held by prosecutors running on tough law and order promises.
But across the nation, progressive reformer DAs have been winning elections, notably in Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Orlando and St. Louis, to name a few. An anti-Trump backlash among voters could also help a reform-minded Democrat win—and San Diego County is no longer a majority Republican registration.
To do that, she’ll need to convince voters that she can keep them safe, while also showing fairness and compassion towards both victims and those accused of crimes.
She wants to make San Diego County families safer in three ways.
First, by breaking the cycle of crime through early intervention, getting violent criminals out of the community and preventing non-violent criminals from escalating their offenses, while disrupting the “school to prison pipeline to keep kids who make mistakes from becoming hardened criminals with no opportunities.” She is also opposed to private prisons where prisoners tend to be warehoused, not rehabilitated. She believes reducing crime should include looking to the root of criminal activity, such as providing a “bridge to resources” for those who need treatment for drug addiction or mental illness, for example.
Second, she aims to bring justice to victims. “Treating victims with dignity is something that the criminal justice system severely lacks,” she states. Jones-Wright wants to have every rape kit tested, support every survivor, and see every wrongdoer held responsible “regardless of their status in the community.” She also wants to be sure that the right person is prosecuted, noting, “Victims are not served unless justice is served.” In a Voice of San Diego interview, she suggested Dumanis and staff padded numbers to boost conviction rates. “You should be focused on justice, not your conviction numbers,” she added.
Third, she makes clear, “No one is above the law.” She wants to see government officials, Sheriff’s deputies and police officers held to the same standards as the public. She’s been critical of Dumanis for not prosecuting a single law enforcement officer, out of 155 officer-involved shootings investigated. She wants more transparency by the D.A.’s office including a consistent policy on releasing body camera footage.
“We need a District Attorney who will work to train all law enforcement and prosecutors on racial, gender, orientation, religious, and class bias and ensure that all deputies understand the ethical and constitutional obligations of both the victims and the accused,” she says. “We need to ensure that politicians and government agencies are held accountable when they violate the public trust.”
For more on her candidacy, visit her website at http://www.joneswrightforda.com/.