Bringing Smarter Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice in Germany and Portugal
In May, I was invited to join a group of district attorneys from throughout the country to visit Germany and Portugal to observe the criminal justice and prison systems and to examine decriminalization of drug possession. We had a packed agenda of meetings with people from all aspects of the criminal justice system. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have observed criminal justice in both of these countries.

Criminal justice in Germany is an inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor and the judge investigate a case (the police do quite a bit of the investigation directed by the prosecutor or judge). The goal is to arrive at a just resolution, not for the prosecutor to "win."

Bail is rare; most people are released pending trial, sentences are much shorter than ours and rarely over five years, and expungement of a record is automatic except for sex offenses.

The prison system is humane and respects human dignity. Inmates have their own private rooms and prisoners are allowed to cook; each floor has a kitchen area.  Family visits are allowed in a large room with toys for the kids and conjugal visits are allowed.

Germany's crime rate has been dropping and is at its lowest level in 30 years. Only 34 percent of individuals were back in the system within a 3 year period after release, verses 68 percent in our country.

Portugal’s decriminalization of personal drug usage is quite impressive. Their approach is a public health issue and it encompasses the idea that some people are going to use drugs no matter what and that many of these folks function well. The goal is to reduce the harm to the community and to the individual in their approach and to allow law enforcement to direct resources toward the traffickers.

The results of this decriminalization are most dramatic in the health arena: in 2000, people who used drugs comprised 52% of new HIV cases; in 2015, they were only 6% of new HIV cases. The number of HIV deaths has fallen quite a bit, and overdose deaths from heroin have decreased by 80%. Since decriminalization, the number of people entering drug treatment voluntarily has increased and there has been a decrease in Tuberculosis as well. The Commanders of the Lisbon Police Department have found that users are more willing to talk with them and give them information about dealers since they know they are not going to be arrested.

I realize that our criminal justice arena differs from that of Germany and Portugal.They do not have the amount of violence that we see here; they do not have the easy accessibility and prevalence of guns. Also, both countries have national public health systems that pay for substance abuse analysis and treatment. It was an educational and inspiring program with some potential suggestions for our criminal justice system.

No More Victims

Drunk driving touches everyone in our office, from our deputy district attorneys who prosecute the the often repetitive offenders, to our victim advocates who guide grief-stricken families through the trial process, to our people who answer the phones and are often the first contact with a victim devastated from a senseless loss. Many of our staff have also lost family and friends to drunk drivers.
  • On average, two out of three people will be impacted by drunk driving in their lifetime.
  • Every 2 minutes, someone is injured in a drunk driving crash.
  • Every day 28 people are killed by drunk driving.
Our office participated in the Walk Like MADD earlier this month to raise money for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) programs. We raised over seven thousand dollars to provide emotional support and assistance with medical and legal struggles, to support the heroes in law enforcement who work to keep our roads safe, and to work with state and local legislators to adopt tougher laws and close loopholes in many existing laws.
Our walkers turned out by the dozens to honor, inspire, and celebrate and, again, we were presented with the Top Law Enforcement Team award. But most meaningful were the stories of our staff who shared their grief, their frustration, and their dedication to ending drunk driving. 
Crime Victim Compensation

Crime impacts victims and survivors in many ways and brings many challenges, some of which may be financial. Our Crime Victim Compensation program assists eligible victims with some expenses related to the crime. 

Victim Compensation may help pay for:
  • Medical and dental expenses related to the crime.
  • Mental health counseling.
  • Loss of wages due to injury.
  • Funeral expenses.
  • Repair of doors, locks, and windows to secure your home.

About the Process
Victims may apply for compensation if
  • They sustain physical bodily injury, extreme mental distress or the crime results in death.
  • They reported the crime to the Denver Police Department
  • They have cooperated fully with law enforcement officials.
  • The injury or death of the victim was not a result of the victim’s own wrong doing.
  • They file an application within one year of the date of the crime.

Some of these requirements can be waived for good cause.

Please have victims file for Crime Victim Compensation by calling us at
720-913-9253, or emailing our victim compensation program at

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Diverting; Not Incarcerating

Young adults are more heavily involved in the criminal justice system than any other age group, and research shows adults in their early 20s are closer developmentally to juveniles. Therefore, It makes sense to extend diversion programs, which have shown to curb reoffending tendencies in juveniles, to young adults.

Over a year ago, our office implemented a Diversion Program for young adults following national research on best practices for working with this demographic. The basic principle of a diversion program is to provide a person who commits a crime the opportunity to avoid being incarcerated and saddled with a lifelong criminal record and, instead, accept responsibility for his or her action and prove that he or she can change behavior. This includes completing treatment, paying restitution, or performing community service. It is a voluntary program that provides intensive supervision and counseling services to adult, non-violent, felony offenders between the ages of 18-26. For appropriate candidates, a referral is made prior to filing criminal charges.

Our program is run by Benita Martin with the help of our Behavioral Health Unit in selecting participants. Upon formal acceptance, the program links clients to targeted services in the community based on individual risk, need and protective factor results following administration of the Service Planning Instrument Screening Tool. The goal is not only successful program completion. Diversion strives to empower clients through self-discovery of individual strengths, while developing skillsets to help them thrive in life beyond Diversion.

Since its inception, the program has accepted 60 candidates. Twenty-five of the 60 candidates include young adults facing felony drug charges, while 35 candidates faced felony charges ranging from theft, criminal trespass, motor vehicle theft, fraud, and criminal mischief. To date, twenty-two clients have successfully terminated from the program with only one recidivating. 

Future goals of the program include accepting up to one hundred and fifty cases, expanding the list of well-vetted qualified treatment providers, improving client engagement and referrals to Victim Impact Groups and facilitated Restorative Justice Conferences. 
Our Adult Diversion Staff, from left to right,
Danielle Alvaro, Justin Moss, and Noemi Hernandez
2019 Denver District Attorney Citizens Academy
We are now accepting applications for our annual Citizens Academy to be held Saturday, October 12th . The Citizens Academy provides ongoing practical information about the criminal justice system for individuals who live or work in the City and County of Denver.  The agenda will include how cases come to us, overviews of our special units, victim services, and our diversion and community programs. We hope you can join us. Read more about it and apply on-line, here.
Below are some words from some of our 2018 attendees:

"The emphasis on ethics and fairness was great."

"I like that Beth is trying new and innovative diversion programs. Keep up the good work. Thank you for the presentation and please keep me involved."

"Vastly more complex and diversified than I imagined. Much larger than I knew. I am really appreciative of the range of flexibility of the DA and how important it is for the community to know more of the work."

"Transparency is important and I think the community will have more confidence."
Denver District Attorney Youth Advisory Council
Do you know a young person who is interested in the community and might have some insight on juvenile justice?

Our Youth Advisory Council is a group of engaged, dedicated, and diverse young people ages 11-18 who are committed to helping young people make good choices and not ending up in the criminal justice cycle. The Council works with the district attorney to gather community concerns, generate ideas for improvement, and discuss the criminal justice system.

The council provides an ongoing youth voice to inform District Attorney McCann as she believes that youth are best served when they are active participants in decisions made about them. The district attorney looks to the expertise of our youth to enhance and transform our juvenile criminal justice systems.

You can get more information and apply to the Youth Advisory Council here.
Denver Restorative Justice Facilitator Training

Our office is sponsoring the facilitator training for restorative justice again this year. I hope you can join us. Hurry! It fills up fast.
Meet Holly: She puts the Love in Victim Advocacy
Our aptly named victim advocate Holly Love volunteered with victim services at the Denver DA’s office after earning a psychology degree from CU Boulder. She came to our office during the Dale Tooley administration and has since helped shape our victim advocacy as it burgeoned from a few victim advocates in the office to the nearly 30 victim advocates we have today.

One of her early memorable cases was one in which a man stabbed his girlfriend more than 37 times and she survived. Since college, she was eager to work in domestic violence because she wanted abused women to know that "they don't have to live like that." and she decided to focus on domestic violence at a time when the laws surrounding domestic violence were new. In the 80s, Holly served on the Denver Domestic Task Force set up by then Mayor Pena to strengthen the response to domestic violence.

This job has a lot of darkness in it, but she's learned to keep perspective and to take things "victim by victim". “We can do things,” she says. “I know I can make an impact on what is on my desk, serve justice and help victims, but in the end, everyone must find their own way.”

Holly finds her balance in her passions outside the office. She is an accomplished ballroom dancer and storyteller. She plays the guitar, the flute, and the harmonica and "when all else fails, I eat chocolate.” 
Soup's on us
We at the DA's office know that well-nourished communities are strong communities, so we participated in the annual "Roll Out the Barrel" food drive for Metro Caring. A couple of weeks ago, we watched our barrels roll out of our office brimming with our healthful contributions. Check out Assistant DA Helen Morgan showing off the soup can trophy we won for bringing in the biggest haul.