Scott Colom spoke to the Columbus Rotary Club on Tuesday about his intention to prioritize prosecuting violent crime during his tenure as district attorney for Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Noxubee and Clay counties.
Colom defeated longtime District Attorney Forrest Allgood in a November election for the 16th Judicial District post.
Colom said district attorneys have to know how to use the court’s resources — not just its money and employees — but the time it has to try cases.
“When it comes to crime,” Colom said, “there’s a lot of it.”
Every three months, Colom tries cases for three weeks in one of the counties that comprise the 16th Judicial District, he said. Cases often take two or three days each, he said, which is why he plans to prioritize violent crimes over non-violent crimes, such as cases in which first time offenders are charged with possession of marijuana. He added that for every non-violent first offender case, there’s a violent criminal who, if he or she is out of jail, is back on the streets.
Colom talked about a case he tried in Oktibbeha County in which a man was convicted of stabbing the father of his girlfriend’s child. The defendant in that case had two priors and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
“It has to be our priority to prosecute him,” Colom said.
He went on to speak about first time non-violent drug offenders who he said often have their lives ruined in prison. By the time they come out of the prison system, they have a hard time finding jobs and are sometimes more violent than when they went into the system, he said. Rather than becoming a productive member of society and a taxpayer, they become a “tax burden,” he said.
Colom said he is looking into alternatives to the prison system for some first-time, non-violent offenders. He does assessments to help put together individual plans to help get the offenders back on track and tries to some of them to drug courts to treat drug addiction problems. It’s not 100 percent effective, he said, but it works for some.
“For every person that we can get out of the criminal justice system, that’s a person that’s no longer a tax burden,” he said. “I’m trying to help as many people avoid that system as I can.”
Colom also took the opportunity to speak about why he wanted to pursue law as a career. Both his parents work in the justice system, so he was familiar with law because of them. After college, he spent a year teaching English in Guyana, one of the poorest countries in the world, he said.
Colom said he was never interested in working at a big law firm.
“I did it because my father told me that practicing law is the way that you can make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.