Colorado’s most high-profile district attorney, George Brauchler, has put the phrase “mass incarceration” on trial in the court of public opinion.
The conservative prosecutor who represents the 18th Judicial District south of Denver, tweeted this on April 29:
"Mass incarceration" is a myth. Individuals with their own attorneys were convicted and sentenced individually. https://t.co/b1I6jN7lpo
— George Brauchler (@GeorgeBrauchler) April 29, 2016
Brauchler is the president of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.
His tweet came in response to an opinion piece in Revolt, a music publication, headlined “Pushing Our Elected Officials To Take Action On Criminal Justice Reform,” by a Dallas attorney whose mother had been incarcerated.
It didn’t take long for responses to Brauchler’s posting to start rolling in, some of them brutal.
@johnsperanza planets too are myths. Gravity holds individual and singular rocks next to one another.
— Matt Ferner (@matthewferner) April 30, 2016
— Jonathan M. Katz ✍🏻 (@KatzOnEarth) April 30, 2016
For his part, Brauchler, whose profile heightened last year when he prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting trial and was briefly courted to run for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, says his tweet was “inartful.”
“My point in that tweet was not to suggest that we don’t have people serving too harsh of sentences for nonviolent drug crimes,” he told The Colorado Independent. “I’m in favor of criminal justice reform, and in fact I think Colorado has been on the front end of this at the state level.”
So what did he mean?
Here’s the more-than-140-character version:
“My point in sending out that tweet, as inartful as it apparently was, was to reject what I think this movement has become, and that is a vehicle for people who are anti-police, anti-prosecutor, and anti courts, to shift the blame away from them and onto individual responsibility that got those people in trouble in the first place.”
That explanation wasn’t enough for at least one member of the Black Lives Matter movement in Colorado – one that has been depicted by some, including former Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz, as being anti-police.
“I’m trying to think of a nicer way to put it that you can print other than ‘bullshit,’” said Roshan Bliss, who is also a member of the Denver Justice Project.
Bliss says plenty of people in American jail cells did have their own due process and did have individual lawyers. But, he points out, those lawyers were likely public defenders, government attorneys who are notoriously underpaid and overworked.
“The DA can say whatever he wants but it doesn’t [change] the fact that the U.S. is currently incarcerating more people at a higher portion of its population than any nation,” Bliss says. “There’s nothing mythical about that.”
This isn’t the first time Brauchler’s use of Twitter has led reporters to hit him up for comment or write stories about it. During the theater shooting trial last year, a judge reprimanded him for tweeting while a witness for the defense was on the stand. Brauchler says he thought he was responding to a text message.
He says he didn’t expect the responses he got from his latest tweet about mass incarceration.
Did he learn anything from it?
“Whatever skills I thought I had in communicating, they don’t translate into 140 character tweets,” he says.
Brauchler used the opportunity to clarify: He’s for programs that divert criminals from prison. He points to his district’s drug treatment court, which tries to treat offenders instead of locking them up in jail. He said he’d call his juvenile diversion program the best in the state. His office, he says, is in the early stages of developing an adult diversion program to keep people out of the court system entirely.
“I am not in favor of locking up everybody for every little thing,” he said. But he added: “I am in favor of personal responsibility.”
Brauchler’s twitter feed has made it into news coverage for other reasons. He’s not shy about using the platform to call out those with whom he disagrees.
Did he go too far this time?
Says the prosecutor: “It’s probably not going to be the last time I think I’ve made a good point and it turns out I was woefully wrong.”
[Photo credit: Shawn Campbell via Creative Commons on Flickr]