|DJ Hilson, PAAM President||
As the Muskegon County Prosecuting Attorney, I am honored to serve as PAAM’s president for 2018-2019. Criminal law and the courtroom have always been attractive to me. At the end of the day, I really love the idea that I get to fight for justice, be a voice for those who are not strong enough and entrench myself in my community through various organizations and non-profits that work just as hard to make our community one that is safe and pleasant to live, work and play.
When I first began my career being tough on all crime was a theme that I was very comfortable with. Now that I have a few years under my belt, it is clear to me that we as prosecutors need to be smart on our approaches to crime prevention. Clearly the individuals who choose to violently affect our communities need to be justly prosecuted and punished. However, I have learned that a majority of those folks we deal with do not fall within that category. Crime prevention and justice can be accomplished in different ways including through diversion, the individualized attention of a specialty court, or working on re-entry programs that improve the person walking out of the system. These are all ways we as prosecutors can work towards assuring victims and our communities that we are fair, just, and reasonable.
In the next year, PAAM will continue to focus on the issue of restitution. As a victim, you need to know that the system will make sure any financial loss is a part of their healing process and not forgotten or ignored.
Along those same lines, PAAM will continue to work with policy makers and stakeholders to focus on the areas of our system that need improvement. Probationers in our state make up a majority of those involved in the criminal justice system, yet that area receives some of the smallest amounts of funding dollars. Probation violations make up 37% of our prison population. So while we stay far below the national average on first time felony offenders going to prison, we need to improve the success of those under supervision. Certainly, it is the individual who has to want to make a change, but if that person is not given the appropriate tools to head in that direction, or is not assessed in a fashion that highlights that individual’s needs, it does create the problem of setting them up for failure. We need to subscribe to the theory of working to make the person better leaving the system than when they first entered it.
PAAM also works on helping to strengthen the foundation of our future. We will collaborate with schools, law enforcement, and our association to put into action the School Safety Reform Plan that was laid out in 2018, including passing the changes in the terrorism statute to allow for more prosecutorial discretion and charging options for students that threaten school safety. PAAM will continue to work with our policy makers to create a more definitive framework for how truancy is defined, handled in the school, and what our role is in ensuring our young people understand the importance of education without making them products of the criminal justice system. The doors of opportunity open through education of our students. In order for them to be educated and take advantage of those opportunities, the students have to be in class learning.
Most importantly: PAAM will work to preserve truth in sentencing for our victims and our citizens. Truth in sentencing provides honesty and transparency to the criminal justice system.