District Attorney Dave Clegg was formally sworn into office last week in a packed ceremony at the Ulster County Courthouse. The 66 year-old former trial attorney is the first Democrat to hold the DA’s office since 1850. The swearing in comes after a weeks-long process to verify the results of November’s election where Clegg prevailed over Republican former Chief Assistant District Attorney Mike Kavanagh by just 78 votes.
Clegg ran on a platform of criminal justice reform calling the War on Drugs a failure and pledging to increase the use of alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent low level offenders. Clegg also supports closer coordination with treatment providers and education programs to combat the opioid epidemic. In his speech presented before a crowd of political supporters, law enforcement officials and attorneys, Clegg outlined his vision for a DA who is actively engaged in combating issues like addiction and domestic violence in forums beyond the courtroom.
“All of you here are joining together with me in the belief that we can make this county, Ulster County safer, healthier and our criminal justice system more equitable and more fair.”
Among his first initiatives, Clegg said, would be to appoint a task force on “Restorative justice.” The term refers to a model of criminal justice that emphasizes reform and rehabilitation over punishment and incarceration. Clegg said that the task force would be made up of current and former judges, people who had been previously incarcerated and reform-minded community leaders. The group would be charged with examining innovative justice initiatives across the country with an eye towards replicating the most successful of them in Ulster County. Clegg also announced a plan to expand the anti-domestic violence Intimate Partner Violence Intervention program countywide. The IPVI program, which currently operates in the City of Kingston, takes a holistic approach to domestic violence by combining offers of counseling and other services to both abusers and victims with an escalating series of legal sanctions targeting repeat offenders. “That is the kind of innovative, creative community involvement we like to see,” said Clegg. Clegg added that his emphasis on rehabilitation and reform would not stop his office from aggressively prosecuting, violent and repeat offenders. Instead, Clegg said, diversion programs and other non-jail solutions for low level offenders would free up resources to go after career criminals.
“When someone enters the criminal justice system we can use both the concepts of justice and compassion while we decide what we do with that person,” said Clegg. “What we will do here is focus on the drivers of crime, focus on the people who are the most dangerous. They will feel the full force of the law.”