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The Voice of the Black Community


Six months into a new ethos in the Durham DA’s office
Published Wednesday, July 31, 2019
by Joe Killian, The Policy Watch

DURHAM – When Satana Deberry took office as district attorney of Durham County in January, she pledged to make some serious changes.

Deberry followed through, particularly in concentrating on the racial and economic disparities in how and for what people are prosecuted and in making Durham part of a national movement for bail reform.

Deberry’s office highlighted some of the most important steps in a six-month progress report released last week. Among them, her office:

  • Implemented an internal pretrial release policy that disfavors pretrial detention and removes money from the equation to the extent possible under North Carolina law
  • Assured an attorney was assigned to all first appearances at the jail, being sure bail is reviewed quickly
  • Continued regular meetings with the Sheriff’s Office and other officials to identify individuals being held on bonds of $10,000 or less in order to determine at an early stage whether to recommend their release
  • Expanded the use of restorative justice practices, which bring victims and defendants together outside of court to promote healing and accountability rather than punishment
  • Created a juvenile team to handle all cases involving individuals 18 and under — and in some cases in their early 20s
  • Stopped accepting court referrals for school-based incidents, with rare exceptions for serious crimes
  • Ended the practice of threatening criminal charges against the parents of students who miss school
  •  Increased the racial and gender diversity of her office in order to better reflect the diversity of the community.

Among the notable numbers from the six-month report:

  • 420: average daily population at the Durham County Detention Center in January, when Deberry took office
  • 369: average daily population at the Detention Center in June; in May the detention center’s average daily population reached a six-month low of 360
  • 19: average number of days someone stayed in the Detention Center four years ago
  • 5.29: average number of days someone now stays
  • 20: the percentage of pre-2019 homicide cases resolved in the first half of this year
  • 2,118: the number of people who for whom the office waived unpaid traffic fines and fees; each lost their driver’s license more than two years ago and the waiving of the fines and fees puts them a step closer to having them restored
  • More than 70,000: the number of cases, most of them traffic-related and tied to license suspensions, dismissed by the office since December 2018 through the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Data Integrity program
  • 26: the number of the office’s 39 employees who are women
  • 50: the percentage of employees who are black
  • 46: the percentage of employees who are white
  • 2: the percentage of employees who are Latinx
  • 36: the percentage of the office’s 22 prosecutors who are white men
  • 27: the percentage of the office’s 22 prosecutors who are black women
  • 2: the number of positions (deputy chief of legal and community affairs and a communication specialist) created to promote transparency, accountability, and relationship building between the public and the justice system in response to a resident survey that found people felt they had no voice in the justice system and didn’t understand how it worked
  • 104: the number of applications for U-Visas approved by the office in the first half of 2019; these visas are reserved for undocumented immigrants who are the victims of a crime, allowing those who assist law enforcement in investigating crimes to seek relief from deportation



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