Lisi Owen: The civil rights attorney operating for Denver DA | Denver Metro Information

Editor’s notice: The race to be Denver’s up coming District Attorney has the possible to be crowded. The Denver Gazette is producing a series of concern-and-reply profiles on district lawyer candidates who are jogging for the four-calendar year-time period. Responses have been edited for size. 

Lisi Owen, a prospect searching for the Democratic nomination for Denver’s district legal professional election in 2024, ideas to address troubles she believes exist in the prison authorized process from within it. She does not have a background regular for a applicant for the workplace: She has not been a prosecutor and doesn’t have a history in prison legislation.

Owen invested yrs training civil legal rights law, with a concentration on representing prisoners. She then practiced insurance policies legislation whole-time from 2017 to 2021, right after feeling that the courtroom procedure is not an suitable system to deal with what she thinks is about-reliance on incarceration with minor return in the way of deterrence or cutting down re-offending.

But she believes her background presents her viewpoint on how to exercise the huge ability a district attorney wields with duty. Hailing from Park Hill, she has fond recollections of escalating up in Denver. She did not see violence firsthand, but her worldview was shaped by fear sowed in the community in the 1990s about gun violence — alongside with the racial overtones it took on — and efforts to portray Park Hill as an unsafe place.

Owen doesn’t assume to singularly improve the criminal lawful technique from inside the Denver District Attorney’s business office. But among the her priorities, she wishes to generate an institutional accountability device specially devoted to prosecution of establishments and their people today, such as law enforcement officers and corporate actors.

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The Denver Gazette: Convey to me a small little bit about your background.

Lisi Owen: The broad umbrella I put my work under is institutional accountability. I’ve normally represented folks in scenarios about major institutions, authorities or corporations. So, sitting listed here nowadays with that expert history, I seem back again on my childhood in Denver a great deal with a distinctive viewpoint, which is that there was a ton of work, I assume, by regulation enforcement to create worry in our group — justifiably, when awful points are taking place. But what I’m involved about these days, is that these many years of currently being really concerned and procedures that appear from that concern have gotten us not to a better area, but to a even worse location.

When I was in regulation faculty, I was in the civil rights clinic at the College of Denver and represented folks in the federal Supermax jail. And immediately, I understood that jail in this country is a human rights crisis.

I feel after the first time I went to that jail, I imagined, ‘This is what I am going to do for the relaxation of my lifestyle, is check out to fix this problem.’ Nearly all of my early vocation was symbolizing prisoners in conditions of confinement conditions.

I inevitably obtained to the put exactly where I was certain that the courts in this state are not likely to do everything about the jail dilemma. So I frankly begun to come to feel complicit in generating the trouble even worse if I would go on to participate in the method. So I stopped accomplishing that work. That’s when I did insurance litigation total time, which I’m very superior at and have the document to demonstrate for that. And I appreciate it. It truly is just not my life’s operate. It is not my enthusiasm.

And so just after I stopped symbolizing prisoners, I had to start off thinking about what I was likely to do instead. I are not able to unsee what I’ve seen in prisons in this place. And so I had to determine out how I was heading to appear back to this perform. And in 2020, the plan that I came up with was to operate for district attorney in Denver. And so which is been a seed germinating for the previous three decades.

The Denver Gazette: What, then, is the charm to you to have a work that is section of a procedure that disproportionately impacts selected groups of people, and the place a big component of the position is arguing for persons to be sent absent, for from time to time for quite very long periods of time?

Owen: Which is the matter that tends to make this determination the hardest for me, in fact. I am a very pragmatic idealist. This is about ability. The way that the felony justice system in this place is established up is the electrical power is concentrated in an exceptional way in the district attorney’s office environment. I would not want this career if it was not for the goal of accomplishing everything I can do to repair the issues that you’ve got just explained.

I will not choose challenge with just one specified district attorney or a different. It is not about Beth. It is not about anyone else who’s jogging who’s been a vocation prosecutor. It is about the system itself and the electric power.

This is about using a leadership function in ensuring the responsible workout of electrical power in a district attorney’s office environment. This place is not in a put wherever we are geared up to really deconstruct the social, political and authorized triggers of racism classism, and individuals are the two significant ones, (but) also social exclusion. So, the way that this system is made is that we use carceral methods as punishment. And I is not going to just take a posture on no matter whether that really should or will modify. It’s the reality that we are living in currently. What we can do is physical exercise that substantial ability and obligation in a truthful and minimally damaging way. To be blunt, that’s a tricky ethical posture to be in, but this is the following right detail that requires to be completed, in my humble feeling.

DG: On staying away from incarceration when doable:

Owen: Succinctly, I consider the basic principle ought to be jail and prison only when needed. You really have to stability the harm that we do by putting people today in jail and jail with the profit. And so, for instance, one particular of my coverage positions is ensuring total investigations prior to charging selections get designed, which seems definitely fundamental, appropriate? So, part of that is just triple checking that we’ve performed a total investigation, but also that investigatory perform is an investigation into what we are seeking to execute with this punishment. So, linking the proposed expenses with the sentence that would come with all those fees to the goal of the prosecution, right? If your goal is to stabilize somebody (and) if this criminal offense was brought about by some destabilizing outcome like poverty, sending them to prison has a even more destabilizing influence, which is having farther from the goal than closer.

DG: It appears to be like a 3,000-foot check out, to sum up of some of the factors you happen to be expressing, is on the lookout at every single case via the lens of “what is the target of prosecution?” and we truly should really be generating choices about how to cope with a situation based mostly on what we want the goal of prosecution to be, not just prosecution by itself?

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Owen: Yeah, certainly. I am educated by, for instance, human rights law that calls for jail to serve one particular of the regarded philosophical justifications. So, of training course, you have pure punishment, which we would simply call retributive. You have rehabilitation. You have incapacitation. (Editor’s note: Deterrence is the fourth major justification for criminal punishment traditionally determined by students and criminologists.)

And if the intention is rehabilitation, for instance, we’re conversing about behavior modification. I imagine that’s what we mean when we say rehabilitation. If a treatment provider, a jail, or a jail can’t display the skill to really modify conduct, and our target is behavior modification, it will make no feeling to deliver someone to a person of all those results.

DG: On the job of facts in general public transparency about the office’s performing:

Owen: One particular of my other policy platform positions is true information transparency. Of program, I take pleasure in the strides we have manufactured in obtaining any facts available. But in terms of comprehending the purpose and usefulness of the office, we do not have the details that we will need.

So, for illustration, you’re telling me you charged on the other hand lots of instances as felonies. And then you inform me that this proportion of instances ended up fixed by plea bargains. Effectively, what I want to know is what was the 1st-level demand of the felony when compared with what was the plea? How major a departure are we producing? Since that gives us information and facts about overcharging.

The DA office’s task is to enforce the legislation as composed by the legislature. So that (also) provides us information and facts about whether or not that enforcement aligns with the legislative eyesight. So, anyway, transparency is definitely critical, but it’s a particular sort of transparency.

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DG: How massive of a position do you consider a district attorney’s place of work should have in rehabilitative applications, whether or not it is the Handgun Intervention Application, no matter whether it really is diversion, points like that?

Owen: In stringent basic principle phrases, simply because I have fears about the amount of electricity that the district attorney’s office has, I think it really is not appropriate for the office itself to be having accountability for effectuating rehabilitation.

I believe it is really again to the strategy of which branch of authorities does what. A prosecutors’ office’s work is to handle the lawful circumstance. You have got other companies whose occupation it is to do that (rehabilitative) perform. There are so numerous criminal justice organizations out there. Why is the DA’s office environment, whose price range is really smaller relative to the other general public protection entities, having to get on that stress?

It really should be a last vacation resort that the DA’s workplace is handling rehabilitative programming in-property. But if the audit disclosed that no one out there who’s acquiring billions of bucks of taxpayer dollars to do this job is able of carrying out the job, then perhaps we will need to shift close to means within just the DA’s office to give this rehabilitative programming.

If the DA’s office environment is heading to get on the responsibility of accomplishing the career the Office of Corrections is meant to do, it seems like it’d be awesome if some of the Division of Corrections’ billion-dollar funds could go to the DA’s office environment to truly do that work.

DG: I want to know about what role you think the DA’s place of work can have in blocking criminal offense.

Owen: As an elected official, as any person who speaks on behalf of the individuals of Denver and frankly, the people today of the point out of Colorado, it is, in my head, incumbent on any individual who assumes that leadership role to comprehend the larger social photograph and authorized picture in which they function. So, in conditions of crime prevention, I do believe that the district legal professional has an very important position to enjoy in doing work with community companions and federal government companions to get out forward of the crime. The DA can play a really important job in indicating, ‘This is what I am looking at, and this is what I imagine the causal mechanism of what I am looking at is.’

Housing is a fantastic example of this. There are a exceptional number of trespassing instances in the town of Denver. That produces an indication that it could be houseless-ness that is ensuing in trespassing rates. The DA’s business need to function carefully with the mayor’s business office to draw that connection — and town council — and problem fix collectively in get both equally to avert the criminal offense of trespassing, and to resolve the underlying social concern. That is what criminal offense prevention appears like to me. And so I feel, in sum, the district lawyer has a seriously significant position to play in leveraging the system which is given to come across approaches to protect against the conditions from at any time remaining in the business office to start out with.

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DG: What is your situation on direct filing on young children? Far more broadly, what’s your position on kids’ situations becoming in adult courtroom at all?

Owen: My situation on immediate filing is that — somebody’s going to locate me the case that is the exception to this rule, I guess — but it should not happen. Little ones shouldn’t be in grownup courtroom, since grownup court docket usually means adult jail.