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Sunday tells CPAC: Collaboration is crucial for reducing prison population

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

“You have to have accountability, but you also have redemption.”

That was the message York County District Attorney Dave Sunday had for an audience of conservatives at the CPAC conference on Friday.

The York County District Attorney led off with this message as he spoke during a panel discussion on crime and public safety as part of the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.

He and two other prosecuting attorneys took turns answering moderated questions on their approaches to addressing and reducing crime in their communities.

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Sunday largely stayed on point as he promoted local programs aimed at reducing recidivism after inmates are released from prison, assisting those with substance abuse or severe mental health issues, and relying on community partnerships to help provide stability. At the same time, he also stressed his office prosecutes suspects in violent crimes “to the fullest extent of the law.”

But for the hundreds or thousands of people with addictions involved in low-level drug-related crimes, Sunday said his office balances accountability with redemptive services. That includes working with employers to provide available jobs to former inmates as one avenue for reducing repeat offenses.

“At first glance people say, ‘What does that have to do with public safety?’ What it does is it takes people that were incarcerated, they work, they pay bills, they pay taxes, they can take care of their families,” Sunday said. “You cannot overstate the critical impact on public safety of keeping families together."

York County D.A. Dave Sunday speaks during a panel discussion at the 2022 CPAC in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

Sunday also said his office   works with partners like the health care community, in what he called “maximum engagement,” to identify defendants with severe mental health issues and help them seek treatment instead of incarceration. He noted assessments, as a result, have sped up in a way that they can be completed in a few days instead of in months, as they were in the past.

“Our prisons have really become a warehouse for people with mental health problems,” Sunday said. "I don’t think that that’s morally sound."

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He told the panel the local prison population declined 40%, crime figures have fallen 30% to 40% and violent crime has decreased 11% in York County.

But Sunday also indicated the modern era has grown more dangerous for children compared with when he was a kid and maybe sneaking a “beverage” from his dad’s garage, he said, semi-humorously. Sunday alleged youths now have more exposure to drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

“We live in a world now where mistakes that our children make can result in death,” Sunday said. “And I can’t be more serious about that, I can’t be more sincere about that.”

He brought the topic up while supporting a point that traditional approaches to crime and community safety aren’t working as well today, that new and innovative strategies are required with a focus on stopping crime in the first place.

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Sunday emphasized the need for strong collaboration with police in   responding to crimes and for community engagement — working with community leaders and doing a better job of connecting with residents as a way to improve community safety.

“Every initiative that exists where I’m at, around the country, cannot in any way, shape or form be done, accomplished or successful without the full support and collaboration with police departments and police officers,” Sunday said.

York County D.A. Dave Sunday speaks as part of a panel with former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker (left), and prosecutors Peter Lucido, of Macomb County, Michigan (right), and Kent Volkmer, of Pinal County, Arizona (far right), during the 2022 CPAC in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

Joining Sunday on the stage for the panel talk were prosecutors Peter Lucido, of Macomb County, Michigan, and Kent Volkmer of Pinal County, Arizona. Former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker served as the moderator.

CPAC, which ended Sunday, is an annual event to rally Republicans and conservatives. Former President Donald Trump   headlined this year's conference on  Saturday.

— Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.