Opinion: Rachel Mitchell Isn’t Making Communities Safer—That’s Why I Support Julie Gunnigle for Maricopa County Attorney

Julie Gunnigle (Photo from Julie Gunnigle's campaign website)

By Rev. Dr. Cathy Clardy Patterson

November 4, 2022

Public safety is paramount to us all. It is every citizen’s right to demand safe communities. 

But, what does that really mean? The answer is complex, and as a pastor, community leader, and an attorney I view it through many lenses. 

Everyone deserves to be safe no matter where they live in the Valley. At the same time, those suspected of breaking the law are entitled to have their constitutional rights protected. Thus, the prosecutor must be adept at weighing these competing interests in a way that assures that the interests of both the victim and the accused are upheld, and, if convicted, measures are taken to reduce recidivism rates.  

Time for Reform

When it comes to Arizona, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) has perhaps the most power to influence public safety. As the chief prosecutor for the state’s largest county, the MCAO makes crucial decisions regarding who gets charged, and whether they face a prison sentence and for how long. In addition, the person who holds this position has historically been able to exert great influence regarding issues related to criminal justice before our state Legislature.

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Given the track record of the MCAO, it is clear reform is needed. This will require an outsider with the experience, wit, and grit to change things for the better and put Arizona on a path of true public safety. Julie Gunnigle is that person.  

On the other hand, her opponent Rachel Mitchell has worked for 30 years in this failed office, which has been plagued with scandal and corruption. As a former division chief who was appointed to be interim county attorney, she’s been in leadership and therefore must bear responsibility for how the MCAO is being run. 

Wrong Priorities

Recently, nearly 200 criminal cases—including for driving under the influence and domestic violence—were dropped by the MCAO when prosecutors didn’t get to them in a timely fashion. The MCAO also knowingly charged protesters as gang members when they were exercising their First Amendment right by speaking out against police brutality. The federal Department of Justice is now investigating this matter.

Julie Gunnigle has a meaningful and thoughtful plan to reform the office and make our communities safer while saving taxpayer money.

Rehabilitation is Key—And Necessary

Gunnigle has committed to stopping the hemorrhaging of experienced prosecutors and support staff who’ve left the office in droves over the years. Hiring and retaining high-quality public safety officials is critical so that the office can focus on victims’ services, developing creative sentencing options for minor offenders, and prosecuting those who commit violent crimes. 

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Gunnigle understands that incarceration is a tool at a prosecutor’s disposal, but it shouldn’t be the only tool. She will invest in alternatives to incarceration, like rehabilitation and restorative justice programs, which are supported by the majority of crime victims

Gunnigle has also committed to treating drug addiction like a public health crisis to ensure there are effective and accessible treatment options that get to the root of a person’s struggle with substance use. 

A Modernized Approach to Reduce Crime

A recent analysis of crimes committed from 2015 to 2019 found that murder rates increased at a lower rate in cities with reform-minded prosecutors. According to the study conducted by the University of Toronto, the total number of murders increased at a greater rate in cities with traditional prosecutors, like Rachel Mitchell, than in those with reform-minded prosecutors. 

The outdated approach used at MCAO, which focuses simply on incarceration, fails to keep our communities safe. Research conducted by University of California Berkeley showed that locking people up had little to no bearing on violent crime rates.

Conversely, over-incarceration for minor offenses can lead to increases in crime rates because it destabilizes families and causes the children of those incarcerated to suffer the mental health impacts of having a parent absent from the home. Moreover, those who are incarcerated are almost never provided the treatment and services they need to ensure they can successfully reenter society. The stigma associated with incarceration can last a lifetime, limiting one’s ability to find a job and provide for their families. 

Our communities deserve a holistic approach to public safety that seeks to prevent crime, provides sufficient victim services, seeks to rehabilitate the incarcerated, and provides post-incarcerated services to former offenders.

The residents of Maricopa County deserve change. That’s why we must elect Julie Gunnigle.

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