On Monday, May 14, community members had the opportunity to listen from San Diego County District Attorney candidate Genevieve Jones-Wright at a forum held in Lincoln Park.
District Attorney and candidate Summer Stephan was out of town and therefore unable to attend.
The San Diego Organizing Project and Mid-City Community Advocacy Network hosted the free forum at the City of Hope International Church with the intention of discussing criminal justice reform with the candidates.
The forum also provided a platform for community members to voice their input on transforming the justice system by submitting questions during the event.
Both Jones-Wright and Stephan are first-time candidates with contrasting career backgrounds and have expressed different ideas on reforming the criminal justice system.
Stephan was appointed as Interim District Attorney in 2017 following Bonnie Dumanis’ decision to not run for a fifth term. She has worked for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor for over 20 years.
Jones-Wright has served as a public defender since 2006 and serves on the City of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention.
During Monday’s event – despite Stephan’s absence – organizers carried out the forum allowing Jones-Wright two minutes to answer questions from panelists and two questions from the audience.
Jones-Wright addressed topics of mass incarceration, the need to put an emphasis on rehabilitation, concerns of racial profiling in law enforcement, and the immigrant community.
The candidate was speaking to a room of like-minded individuals and her responses were often followed by applause.
Event leaders expressed the need for the County to move from punishment to rehabilitation by holding those responsible for crimes accountable yet allowing them to reintegrate into society once they have served their time.
Jones-Wright criticized a move by then DA Dumanis to prosecute men under the Penal Code section 182.5, which allows prosecutors to charge active gang members for crimes committed by other gang members, even if they were not involved in a crime.
The public defender said she would never use section 182.5 and added that she would like to see convictions vacated, sentences commuted, and see the young men get the just remedies for the wrongs that were done by the District Attorney using section 182.5.
“The District Attorney when they know that a wrong has been done should be committed to righting that wrong as much as possible,” Jones-Wright said.
County supervisor candidate, Dumanis recently addressed and apologized for her decision to prosecute those men using section 182.5 during a podcast interview with online news organization Voice of San Diego.
Church leaders and those in attendance gave Jones-Wright a positive welcome, and in sharp contrast, organizers expressed their disappointment that candidate Stephan was not present to “hear the needs of the community.”
According to Stephan’s campaign spokesperson, Stephan was attending a meeting in Sacramento and was unfortunately unable to attend the forum on Monday.
“She met with this organization last year and has already participated in half a dozen forums hosted by the League of Women Voters, ACLU, Labor Council, Latino American Political Association, and others,” Stephan’s campaign spokesperson wrote in an email.
He added that it was “worth noting” that the hosts of the event, the San Diego Organizing Project, receive funding from billionaire investor George Soros who is reportedly supporting Jones-Wright.
According to the organization’s website, one of their listed contributors is Open Society Foundation, which Soros chairs and founded.
The San Diego Organizing Project will not be endorsing either of the candidates, they did however, encourage those in attendance to vote on June 5.