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WA Supreme Court candidate seeks root causes in approach to crime

Washington State Supreme Court. (Harvey Barrison, Flickr)

Judge Dave Larson now serves in the Federal Way Municipal Court, and is running against Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis for position three on the Supreme Court of Washington. She was appointed by Governor Inslee to succeed Mary Fairhurst back in December.

Larson joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss the different approach to sentencing that he wants to bring to the court.

“Well, the approach that we currently take is the punitive system, and it has its benefits. But the problem is that for a lot of folks, especially first-time offenders, it’s not been effective, and then with the addiction, mental illness, homelessness issues we have, it’s become more of a regional problem, and it’s very difficult to handle on the local level,” Larson said.

“So the approach is to try to address root causes,” he explained. “In other words, instead of just treating symptoms by telling people to go to jail, or get some kind of punishment, or go to some class, you actually try to look a little deeper … the number of the people that have cycled through over and over again, we failed to do the root causes early. And then we spent a lot of resources later and a lot of pain for the person that’s there in court, for the community that’s impacted by the crime and, ultimately, if we spend a lot more time on the therapeutic methods upfront, hopefully get people so they don’t come back.”

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For Larson, it’s partially about helping those who are truly earnest in trying to improve their lives and leave a potential life of crime.

“It’s separating the can’ts from the won’ts; the can’ts are the ones that really are having a hard time overcoming some issues that are promoting criminal behavior, and we work with them. The won’ts are the ones that just simply won’t engage, and the punitive system is designed for those folks,” he said.

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“And the issue of race has really kind of demonstrated why we need to do this, because with race, we aggravate and reinforce some of the issues that are out in the greater society in the way we handle cases.”

So at the Supreme Court level, what kind of cases does he envision would help with such issues?

“The thing is a lot of people underestimate the Supreme Court’s power when it comes to running the courts. The Supreme Court’s the boss of the courts. It sets the rules, it sets the tone. So some of those things that I’ve talked about earlier, about the way we handle misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, in some cases requires some legislation, in other cases requires some amendments, and court rules — that starts at the top,” he said.

“We do not have a unified court system, so each city has its own court. Each county has its own court. And so there needs to be more leadership at the Supreme Court level to get some of the changes we want to see that will benefit both the issues of race and issues of addiction and mental illness.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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