Transparency Integrity and Innovation

Introduction

 

The time has come for new vision, and more innovative and collaborative leadership in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Positive reforms to the justice system are being made all over the country, supported by both progressives and conservatives.  Here in Hennepin County, very little has changed.  

 

Over the last 20 years I have invested my time in building expertise in our justice system and advocating for improvements. For the past decade, I  have brought together communities and stakeholders to identify and advance innovative and bipartisan solutions to problems in the system, creating a more just and safe community for all.

 

In the next several months I will provide more specific and detailed information about how I will bring this experience and approach to the County Attorney’s Office. Below is the first in a series of releases of this information.


 

Transparency, Integrity, and Innovation

 

Transparency, integrity, and innovation are key to good leadership and governance. They are also the foundation of an effective justice system and a safe community. When only 22% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the criminal justice system, it is clear we're not leading with those values. Growing community confidence and improving effectiveness can happen with commitments to openness; community involvement; constant monitoring and evaluation; and seeking out better ways of doing things.

 

1. Community Advisory Board

 

To increase transparency, build on community knowledge, and shape innovative and effective policies and practices, I will create a Community Advisory Board (CAB). I will assemble members with diverse experience and expertise in the criminal justice system who are also representative of the diversity of Hennepin County. The CAB will have a broad mandate to scrutinize patterns, practices, and policies of the office; it will seek out innovative new approaches that are being effectively used around the country; and it can recommend changes. Meetings will be open to the public. Early priority areas for the CAB will include:

  1. Improve sexual assault response;

  2. Improve child protection practices and address racial disparities;

  3. Improve and expand drug diversion programs;

  4. Expand juvenile diversion and restorative justice; and

  5. Create policies for an Integrity Review Unit (see below).

 

2. Integrity Review Unit

 

As former United States Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson recognized, 'the prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His [or her] discretion is tremendous.' For this reason, the office must prioritize the development of skilled lawyers whose discretion in criminal cases is not only defensible, but also tempered by experience and wisdom. With guidance from the Community Advisory Board and drawing on best practices from other jurisdictions, I will create and staff an Integrity Review Unit (IRU). While specifics of the structure and policies of this unit require careful planning in consultation with experts, I am committed to:

  1. Giving the IRU a broad mandate to review and, when appropriate, redress claims of innocence, excessively punitive dispositions, and cases involving police and/or prosecutor failure to uphold people’s constitutional rights.

  2. Staffing the IRU with seasoned prosecutors, criminal justice experts, and newer staff who rotate through in order to spread values of integrity, humility, and fairness (which I prefer over winning convictions at any cost).

  3. Creating a variety of avenues for relief where a breakdown in the system is discovered, including dismissals, release, and expungements where anyone is unjustly charged or convicted.

  4. Regular reporting of the findings and actions of the IRU, including the demographics and outcomes of reviewed cases.

 

3. Transparent and Independent Police Use-of-Force Charging

 

To ensure transparency and accountability in charging decisions regarding police use-of-force cases, I will make several changes.

 

  1. Create an advisory panel with appropriate independence and autonomy to provide charging recommendations in police-involved incidents. This change can be started immediately. The panel will consist of experts who reflect the diversity of our community, and will assist me in making the most sound decision, as well as mitigate any internal biases.

  2. Advocate for the broader changes necessary to create an independent prosecutor’s office or interagency agreements to handle police-involved incidents.

  3. Publicize all policies regarding police-involved incidents, and provide an annual report summarising investigations, prosecutions, and dispositions of police-involved incidents.

 

4. Officewide Transparency

 

Everyone in Hennepin County should be able to make an informed decision on whether our criminal justice system is operating with integrity. I will dedicate staff and systems to gather information on the office, and, to the extent possible, make it public and easily accessible. I will immediately work to provide:
 

  1. The Office’s policies and procedures.

  2. Charging, plea, trial, and sentencing information by race, socioeconomic status, gender, and other demographics.

  3. Bail amounts by type of charge, the accused’s ability to pay and other demographics, the amount of time the accused was held in custody pre-trial, and case disposition.

  4. The amount of funding the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office receives from civil forfeitures, by offense charged and the race, socioeconomic status, gender, and other pertinent demographics.

  5. Political endorsements made by professional organizations where I hold a leadership role, and links to any press where I am quoted as your Hennepin County Attorney.

 

Conclusion

 

These policy changes are heavily informed by my professional experiences working to make the criminal justice system more effective, transparent and accountable. These experiences have connected me to many in the community working tirelessly to advance this vision. I thank them for their dedication. I am also inspired by prosecutorial reforms in other jurisdictions around the United States. I welcome your input on these plans, and any other ideas you have to advance the transparency, integrity, and innovation of the Office of the Hennepin County Attorney.

Anthony Hernandez