Q&A: District Attorney Candidate Natasha Irving
Natasha Irving, D-Waldoboro: I was born and raised in Waldoboro, where I still live today with my daughter and my spouse. My father was the Marine Technology teacher at Region 8 vocational high school for more than 30 years, and my mother worked her way up from an entry level position to manager at the rural medical office in town. I live with my spouse and daughter, our three dogs, two goats, 20 odd chickens, pigs and one horse, on my grandfather’s old farm. Being a mother and stepmother has been the greatest honor of my life, and I dedicate every day to being a role model for my girls. As a local attorney, a small business owner, and on the SAD 40 school board, I have had the privilege to advocate for my community. Now, I would like to fight for my community as District Attorney, advocating for common sense solutions that we all agree are long overdue.
The Office of Attorney General says that you meet monthly in Augusta to discuss issues of mutual concern. What are those concerns this autumn in Maine, particularly in District 6.
The most pressing issue that needs to be addressed in Augusta is the creation of Problem Solving Courts, including Veterans’, Drug, and Mental Health Court. The fact that not one representative from the current District Attorney’s office showed up to testify at the Legislature regarding LD 1885, establishing a Drug Court in the Midcoast, and LD 111, establishing more Veterans’ Courts in Maine, deeply troubles me. By all accounts these courts save lives, save tax-payer dollars, and save our communities. By not showing up, by failing to advocate, we lost out for another 2 years. This is unacceptable, and needs to be a top priority.
Another extremely important concern is the lack of clear protocol around Sexual Assault Kits. LD 145 would have established a standard of tracking the data from Rape Kits, and no one from Prosecutorial District 6 showed up to lobby for this common sense law that requires rape kits to entered into the Federal database, or CODIS. This is unacceptable. All victims of sexual assault deserve to have the evidence of their assault analyzed and tracked, period.
The criminal justice system in Maine must be scrutinized, top to bottom, regarding cost effectiveness. Our jails and prisons are bursting, our probation officers are over-worked, our corrections officers are dealing with serious mental health and medical issues, it costs a boat load of money, and our recidivism rate continues to climb, making our communities less safe. I am sick and tired of living in a nanny state, and so are my neighbors. Mainers deserve better.
What police training and continuing legal education would you want local and county law enforcement to receive?
Our hard working police, who put their lives on the line for us everyday, deserve 21st century training and equipment, to keep us safe and to keep them safe. Most of all, I want law enforcement to feel they can come to me to ask for the training they need, and I will deliver by obtaining funding through grants or community partnerships.
Continuing education regarding: forensic evidence gathering, advanced witness interviewing techniques/forensic interviewing techniques, cyber crimes, human trafficking, domestic violence, elder abuse, de-escalation techniques with combat veterans, de-escalation techniques with mental illness, advanced first aid for opiate overdose, participation in the CODIS system, integrated criminal history reporting, FBI forensic internships, to name a few.
What is your overarching prosecutorial philosophy?
The role of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not to merely convict people of crimes. That’s not only what I believe, that is the law of the land, as stated by the Supreme Court. When the District Attorney forgets that, we have lost our way.
I believe that implementing Community Based Restorative Justice, focusing on the needs of victims and the community, is of utmost importance. I believe that criminal justice is about keeping us safe, righting wrongs, making victims whole, and addressing the root cause of crime, with an eye on preventing re-offense. The model for assessing whether a District Attorney’s Office is successful must be whether recidivism rates are dropping, that is how we know we are fostering real public safety.
The current system, which has failed us, is to determine success by conviction rates, which leads to over prosecution of non-violent crime, and under prosecution of crimes like sexual assault and child abuse: crimes that are hard to prove, that you don’t always win, which can lower your all important conviction rate.
Mainers don’t care about conviction rates, they care about the safety of their families and communities. This emphasis on conviction rates in turn leads to a slap on the wrist for sex offenders and abusers, and long, expensive sentences for non-violent, misdemeanor offenses. Jails and prisons must be reserved for violent and sex offenders who destroy lives and rip at the seams of our community. I believe we have the responsibility to vigorously fight for victims in our community, victims of child abuse, sexual assault, and elder abuse, even if those cases are hard to win.
What would the priorities of your office be if elected and what specific actions would you take first to implement them?
- Implementation of Community Based Restorative Justice across the four counties for non-violent misdemeanor offenses.
- Focusing our resources on the prosecution of sex offenses and violent offenses: no more slap on the wrist sentences for those who hurt our children.
- Partnering with community police to build community policing partnerships that fight addiction, identify victims of crime, and keep us all safe.
- Working in all four counties: we need justice in every corner of the Midcoast, not out of one centralized office.
- Changing case assignment of prosecutors from an arbitrary alphabetically based allocation to assignment based on skill sets, with the most challenging cases sent to the most experienced prosecutors.
- Implementation of a mentoring program for new prosecutors to be assigned to more experienced prosecutors.
- Establishment of a Grant writer to pursue Federal Grants to fund programs like Veteran’s Court.
- Working with the Legislature for criminal justice reform that keeps us safe and saves taxpayer dollars.
- Fighting for pay raises for staff prosecutors. The men and women who prosecute the most heinous crimes in our community need to make a decent wage.
- Standardizing staff positions and salaries across the four counties.
What is your leadership background and style?
The most important leadership role I will ever have is that of being a mother, and I remind myself of this fact constantly. I live by a very simple rule: no whining, no complaining, no excuses. This means if there is something that I believe needs fixing, it is my job to fix it.
My leadership experience includes years of work fighting to make positive change in my community, whether that was as an Americorps Volunteer creating and running programs for girls, as a union organizer winning a new union of part-time professors in the community college system, as a political organizer recruiting and managing 60 volunteers, or on the MSAD 40 School Board representing the people of Waldoboro. Service to others, service to my community is not optional, it is my obligation as a citizen, a parent, and a person lucky enough to be able to give my time.
I have a very strong team mentality. Creating a workplace culture that values employees, recognizes strengths and weaknesses of the team and of the individual worker, and constant adaptation to our changing world is extremely important in making sure we are successful.I hold myself to very high standards, and so too the people I work with. That means I unwaveringly insist upon honesty and integrity, kindness and respect, and hard work and perseverance, especially when the going gets tough. I expect that egos are put aside and every decision in the District Attorney’s office comes down to one question: is this justice?
What has prepared you to handle personnel issues across 4 offices and a large Prosecutorial District?
I have worked a lot of jobs to make ends meet, everything from a babysitter, to a waitress, to an attorney running my own practice. I worked because I needed to make a living, needed to put food on the table. I know what it is like to be valued as an employee, and I know what it is like to be walked all over as an employee. There have been times I had to choose between food and heat, and I never want a worker in my office to feel that sting. My respect for workers, for their time, their families, their efforts and passions, make me a good boss. Workers must feel valued and heard. The rights of workers to a safe workplace, free of harassment of all kinds, will be enforced, no excuses.
At my core, I am an advocate. I will fight for my employees to get pay raises: no one working at the DA’s office should have to bartend at night to make ends meet, their work too important to have them show up to work exhausted. In the current DA’s office there are pay inconsistencies with support staff, there is inconsistent staffing creating uneven workloads across the counties, and the DA needs to advocate for higher starting pay for prosecutors, to attract experienced attorneys to fight for victims at trial.
Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for District Attorney, Maine Senate and Legislature, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state. The candidates have responded with their individual written answers.
How specifically are you going to address the opiate epidemic in Maine? Do you believe that incarceration and/or probation are the answer to drug offenders?
There is an enormous difference between people addicted to drugs, and drug dealers. Addiction, at its core, is a chronic and debilitating brain disease.
Instead of removing people from treatment and throwing them in jail, instead of forcing hard working corrections officers to deal with the medical effects of drug withdrawal, we need to keep non-violent offenders, addicted to opiates, in community based treatment at the offenders expense. It is irresponsible to take people out of treatment and have the tax payers pay for jail time. Jail time is not an effective response to this issue, medical treatment is.
Currently, when an addicted person is on a deferred disposition or on probation, and they relapse, the District Attorney requests jail or prison time. We need a District Attorney who understands that relapse is a part of the disease of addiction, and means that a person requires more treatment, not to be taken out of treatment. We need a District Attorney who is willing to see it through in these cases, and realize that long periods of incarceration, without treatment, will never result in remission of the disease.
Dealers need to be handed over to the Attorney General’s Office to be prosecuted for Drug Trafficking.
You are running as a candidate for a major political party. Do you believe that politics should play a role in prosecutorial decision-making or policy positions?
The fact that the District Attorney is an elected position means that the people of the Midcoast have a say in the criminal justice system, and that we the people get to decide whether the system is working or not. Before I decided to run for this office, I heard from my neighbors, my community, police, my clients and their families, and I heard the same thing over and over again: the District Attorney’s policies are failing to bring justice to our communities and victims, and it costs too much in taxpayer dollars. I am asking for every vote in the Midcoast to bring an end to failed policies, and create a system that works.
I am a Democrat, and I am running as a Democrat. As District Attorney, I will work with members of all political parties and independents at the legislature to ensure that we get the resources we need to make us safe. I want to work with people who care about our community as much as I do, and we will be too busy getting the work done to discuss party politics. Will you fight for children, will you fight for elders, will you fight for the health of our communities, will you fight for veterans: those are the questions that matter to me, not what party you are registered under at the town office. We are Mainers first.
I have support from Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, and Independent voters because the policies I am advocating for are truly fiscally responsible, moral, and strike the right balance of vigorous prosecution of violent and sexual offenses versus restorative justice for non-violent offenses. There are conservative movements in this country espousing the same position as mine, and I am proud to stand with anyone willing to fight for justice reform that saves us money and keeps us safe. These are not Democrat vs. Republican policies. This is a matter of bringing the District Attorney’s office into the 21st century, learning from unwise policies, and creating a system of justice makes common sense.
How many cases are you personally going to try in a year?
This is an unanswerable question. I will not implement an arbitrary quota system, I will be too busy working for the safety of my community and working for justice. Currently, about 3% of cases go to trial, I will try cases when appropriate and necessary.