For new District Attorney Scott Colom, it’s important to balance being tough on crime while offering second chances to those who might need it.
Colom, who was sworn in to the position Monday, visited the Columbus Exchange Club to share some of his goals for his time in office. The year’s first circuit term begins Monday in Clay County.
He said it’s important to be tough on violent criminals and pointed to recent shootings as harmful to the city.
“They’re very troubling to me, even if it’s just in one part of town,” he said. “The problem is the press that comes from that affects the whole city. It affects the reputation of the city. It affects people’s desire to move to this city. People are concerned about it even if it’s not in their neighborhoods.”
However, Colom spent significantly much more time addressing ways to help those who commit first-time, nonviolent offenses. He said it’s important for his office to try to rehabilitate those who want the help.
“My belief is as much as we can help someone become a tax payer, instead of a tax burden, that’s something we need to do,” Colom said. “In reality, a lot times you have kids who make mistakes involving drugs and usually they’re addicted. Instead of making them a felon — which unfortunately is a lifetime scar and hard to bounce back from — what I think we need to do is hold them accountable in a way that forces them to deal with the addiction (and) forces them to deal with the behavior that lead to it.”
In order to do that, Colom said his office will be more involved with the drug court and will use pre-trial diversion programs when possible.
Colom said his office can use pre-trial diversions to assess the problems a first-time nonviolent offender may have and craft a plan to address them. The goal, he said, is to get them back out of the criminal justice system as a productive part of the community.
“Now am I promising the public that there are not going to be repeat offenders or that everybody’s going to be saved right away? No, of course not,” Colom said. “What I’m saying is as much as possible it’s in everyone’s interest — including that individual — that we try to rehabilitate people without making them a felon if they’re eligible for that type of rehabilitation.”
During a question and answer session, Colom said he might look at ways to adjust how cases are brought before grand juries. He said it’s important to be sure a case goes before a grand jury when it is ready.
He said the DA’s office will review investigators’ files before presenting them. He said that may help catch cases that need additional records, witnesses or other preparations.
“I don’t believe it’s effective just to present everything to the grand jury over a five day period where they’ve got a lot going on and they may indict a case that’s not ready,” he said. “Then you have to present it to trial and it’s not a good case.
“The job of the district attorney in my eyes and ethically is to represent the state and pursue the truth in the administration of justice,” Colom added.”