The Rapidian

Voting for Kent County Prosecutor: Alida Bryant runs on reform; Chris Becker on continuity

On November 8, Kent County voters will elect a new Prosecutor. The two candidates, Alida Bryant (Democrat) and Chris Becker (Republican) were interviewed on their vision for the office.
Kent County Prosecutor candidates Alida Bryant (Democrat) and Chris Becker (Republican)

Kent County Prosecutor candidates Alida Bryant (Democrat) and Chris Becker (Republican) /Bryant photo: Patrick's Photography / Becker photo: Jeanne Becker

The effect on communities

Though it's difficult to ascertain the effect of prosecution and incarceration on marginalized communities, these highlights from the 2015 Kent County Corrections Statistics may shed some light:

Total Bookings for 2015: 24,693.

Average Daily Inmate Population: 1058

Race:
White: 48 percent
Black: 42.3 percent
Hispanic: 9.7 percent

Gender:
Male: 74 percent
Female: 26 percent

Age:
Those in their 20s and 30s account for 65 percent of the inmate population.

Nonviolent:
Up to 45% of inmates are non-violent offenders with no institutional behavior issues .

Mental Health:
Nearly 7,800 inmates were assessed by mental health staff in 2015.
30 percent of the population is on some type of psychotropic medication.

Criminal Charges
The County Prosector publishes an annual report which shows that charges for most crimes are down, including homicide, domestic violence, and criminal sexual conduct, while charges for child abuse and embezzlement have increased.

The Kent County Prosecutor represents the State and the County in charging and prosecuting individuals accused of crimes from trespassing to murder, as well as in matters of family law. The office also works with police, the courts, and community organizations to deter crime. After years of service, current Prosecutor William Forsyth is retiring, which offers a rare opportunity for a new face in the office.

 

Alida Bryant, Democrat: A need for reform

 

When asked about her decision to run, Bryant responded, “A colleague asked me to consider running and the issues that need addressing [are not] being discussed by my opponent. As a criminal defense attorney for the last 22 years, I have been in touch with the community and I understand their needs. [From my] personal experience in managing money for civic groups, to my professional responsibilities of managing a large caseload [in the Kent County Office of the Defender] with many employees, I have the ability to run the office.”

 

“Tough-on-crime has been the model for over 30 years,” continued Bryant. “The results are high incarceration rates, but it has not produced safer neighborhoods. Non-violent offenders in the prison system cost the taxpayers money; we spend more on the corrections budget than we do the education budget.”

 

When asked whether race was an issue in this election, Bryant said, “Yes, it is. To ignore what studies and cell phone images have shown us regarding a bias in the system, this is the same as actively participating in the problem. Our interactions with all disenfranchised groups must be reviewed and unwanted impacts must be immediately addressed and corrected.” Bryant has further plans to improve the office, “We can hold meetings for people to talk about the issues which plague them. I know some of the issues from working with the indigent community for so long, but I don’t presuppose that I know all the issues. A public servant who is willing to listen to all aspects of the community can serve everyone, not just victims. Non-violent victimless offenders and their families deserve a voice. They deserve equality and a real chance at breaking the cycle.”  

 

“Reform does not mean soft on crime, nor will it affect victim’s rights. All assaultive and violent crimes will be dealt with the same way, but victimless offenders deserve alternative programming to become productive again. Smart justice just makes sense,” Bryant said.

 

Chris Becker, Republican: Twenty-one years in the office

 

When asked about his decision to run, Becker answered, “As Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson [once said], the prosecutor had more power than any person in America to impact the day-to-day life of any citizen. The office has tremendous discretion on who to charge, who not to charge, and what charges to file on any individual. You need a person who understands that power and who has the ethics and honesty to properly fill that role.”

 

Becker continued, "I have been working for the office for 21 years, the last five as the Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney responsible for the day-to-day operations of the office. I've had over 170 felony trials in my career. I was the first prosecutor in the county to specialize in elder abuse crimes. I understand the responsibility and have demonstrated how to appropriately use the discretion [of the office].

 

When asked if race is an issue, Becker replied, “Though Ms. Bryant is African-American and I am not, I do not think that has played a role in the election, nor should it." Becker said he respects Bryant's work and believes she respects his.  

 

Regarding his ideas to improve the office, Becker said, “I plan on doing more office outreach to minority communities if elected. We do not do much of that now, I think we need to have a better presence with those groups who very often see the prosecutor as merely a tool of the police. We do work with the police but in no way are we some sort of "rubber stamp" for them. We have as much responsibility to protect the rights of defendants as we do for the victims of a crime.”

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