Name as it appears on the ballot: Kayley Taber
Campaign website: KayleyTaber.com
Years lived in Orange/Chatham County: I have worked in the Orange/Chatham District Attorney’s office for 23 years. I previously lived in Orange County for about 5 years, in addition to that residency, I commuted to Orange County for an additional three years as a student at UNC School of Law. I am currently a resident of Pittsboro in Chatham County and have lived here for about 8 years. As the daughter and wife of a veteran, I had the opportunity to live in Europe, Asia, California, Arizona, & Virginia prior to returning to our home state of North Carolina.
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Attorney’s Office? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
Over-representation of Communities of Color in CJS
The School of Government has recently released a dashboard that shows that there are significant racial disparities in Orange County & Chatham Counties in the arrest and charging of Black & Hispanic citizens in relation to representation in the population. In Chatham those identified as Black are 12% of the population and 33% of those charged. Hispanics in Chatham are 9% of the population and 16% of those charged. In Orange those identified as Black are 12% of the population and 45% of those charged. Hispanics in Orange are 7% of the population and 11% of those charged. It is important to note that these disparities may be explained by a multitude of factors. Comparisons to local demographics are imperfect because cases charged may include people who reside in other counties. In Chatham County, bilingual advocates have been working very hard for the last 15 years to provide Hispanic women and children the support they need to feel safe reporting sexual assaults. I have personally advocated with the Hispanic community that they too can seek justice, regardless of the length of time that has passed. They understand that immigration status and language are not a barrier to seeking justice. I believe that this community outreach has helped them come forward and to feel safe working with local law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office. This has resulted in offenders within the Hispanic community being charged. The science tells us that the majority of child physical and sexual abuse occurs in a family environment, is committed by males, and is rarely reported at the time of the offense. Many of these cases charged in Chatham involve offenses that occurred 1 years prior to the report date or occurred multiple times over many years. I would expect that the data would reflect this. (See Footnote 1) Regardless of my perception, it is critical that we dig into these numbers to determine if these disparities are the result of explicit or implicit bias, systemic racism, unjustified or disparate policing, race-neutral causes or a combination of factors. We must be prepared for the answers and stand ready to work to eliminate our policies that contribute to these disparities and inequities. How can we do better if we are not willing to take a hard look at ourselves? I will continue to advocate for policies and procedures that I believe stand the best chance to reduce these disparities. I will set standards for our office that focus on treatment instead of incarceration, pre-arrest diversion, post-arrest diversion, pretrial release and bond reforms, restorative justice practices and trauma informed prosecution. I also believe our work to reduce mass incarceration discussed below will provide significant benefit for marginalized communities that are over-represented in the CJS.
Prosecutors must understand the science of bias and that it contributes to the systemic over prosecution of persons of color. I will require continuing professional development and the completion of specialized training in trauma, implicit bias, equitable prosecutorial practices, as well as understanding and embracing diversity. I am committed to developing diversity in our office by actively recruiting attorneys and staff that represent diversity in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and life experience. I believe that an office that is diverse builds public trust, improves cultural competence, informs decision making, and helps develop policies that are both fair and equitable.
Mass incarceration is not only a predictor of poverty it is a cause. Incarceration destroys financial security, creates debt, and severely limits a person’s ability to get and keep a job. We must redirect our public spending to smarter investments like community-based drug treatment, expansion of Medicaid and mental health/substance abuse treatment and diversion programs. As your District Attorney I will continue to advocate for these supports and reforms both locally and on a state level.
Orange County is currently diverting the unhoused/unsheltered, and mentally ill through SOHRAD, the Street Outreach, Harm Reduction and Deflection Program. This program is a truly innovative way to reduce harm and incarceration by sending social workers, not police, for the so-called “nuisance” calls that often result in unnecessary arrest and incarceration. This program needs to be further supported in Orange County and expanded to Chatham County. Access to justice should not depend on your zip code.
I will work to expand our pretrial screening of criminal cases to divert more people out of the local jail using proven risk assessment tools and community support. I plan to add a trauma screening to each assessment so we can develop a treatment plan that considers not just what a person may have done, but what has been done to them. Our goal is to create a positive treatment, pretrial release or diversion plan that helps them not only survive their prior trauma but thrive in the community. I believe that pretrial confinement should be the exception, reserved for those who are dangerous to themselves and others. We need to understand what a person’s life experience has been. Have they experienced lack of health care, over policing, racism, homelessness, loss of a family member to incarceration, domestic violence, do they have a family member with mental illness? I am on the Bail Policy Workgroup that is meeting now to work on more reforms to expand our evidence-based release and treatment programs.
I will expand and support the Restorative Justice process. The RJ process brings together those who have been harmed with the person who caused the harm to talk about how they have been impacted by the event and what would provide them a sense of justice and peace. All participants work together to create an agreement on how the person who caused harm can take responsibility for their actions. It is a voluntary program that I plan to make available to victims of crime in our district. When I talk with victims of crime, they often are seeking more than just a resolution to a criminal prosecution. They want answers to key questions. Why me? Why now? Does the person that harmed me feel remorse? Do they want to get help for substance abuse or mental health? RJ can be used confidentially and safely to get those answers for victims of crime. RJ can be most effective in cases where the harm is the most severe and traumatic. What better use of the RJ process than in cases where the ultimate harm was caused? There is nothing that the criminal justice system can do to bring back the loved ones lost. But we can help the surviving family members heal by giving them the opportunity to participate in RJ. As a family of a murder victim, I understand the value of this program and will be committed to its integration into the prosecutions in the district.
Criminalization of mental health and addiction
Mental health and substance abuse treatment should be funded and supported just as physical health. Incarceration is not the answer and can be counterproductive and harmful. I believe in using a medical model to provide treatment for the addicted and the mentally ill who are also criminally involved. With this goal in mind, I helped to create and expand our mental health diversion court for Orange and Chatham (Community Resource Court). CRC is a community-based program that helps those with severe and persistent mental illness navigate out of the criminal justice system and provides them the support to not just survive but thrive. I will also continue to divert the addicted to treatment to give them the best available tools to achieve sobriety.
I will advocate for a new program diverting mental health 911 calls to social workers and improved training for dispatchers to understand and properly code these calls. Police involvement during a mental health crisis can be dangerous and deadly. It often results in unnecessary incarceration and even death. This is personal to me. I have family members that struggle with mental illness. I understand how quality support and care can provide a pathway to health and well-being. At the end of the day a family who calls for help, should get that. Not more trauma. Specialized police training is part of the solution, but the use of mental health social workers should be a component of the response as well.
Devastation of our communities by loss of life through overdose and suicide
We do not have enough community resources to meet the need for addiction and mental health services. People are suffering, and the conditions brought on or exacerbated by the pandemic are straining our systems of care. The loss of life from overdoses and suicides over the last few years has devastated our community. As the District Attorney, I will work with our law enforcement, community advocates and public health partners to identify and target areas of our community hit hardest by these losses. I will create a taskforce to gather data to determine patterns of overdoses and suicides. We can then use that data to create targeted intervention and prevention plans.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district attorney? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I have over 25 years of experience as an attorney in North Carolina. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1988 with a degree in Political Science and received my Juris Doctor with honors from UNC Law in 1996. I am a NC Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist. I teach doctors, nurses, law enforcement, and attorneys on the best practices for investigating, documenting, presenting, and testifying in criminal cases. I am an expert in criminal prosecutions of child sexual abuse which are considered the most difficult and technically challenging cases to handle. I have handled serious felony cases in both Orange and Chatham County and have developed strong community connections in both. This training and experience allow me to mentor attorneys in the skills needed to do the job and provide them a positive role model of a compassionate, innovative, and community-oriented prosecutor.
With over 15 years of management experience in the District Attorney’s Office, I have demonstrated my ability to be an effective leader. I will continue to build on the strengths of our employees and create a positive and supportive office environment. I believe that an office that is diverse builds public trust, improves cultural competence, informs decision making, and helps develop policies that are both fair and equitable.
I have spent my entire career working with survivors of trauma and understand how adverse experiences impact physical and mental health and increase the likelihood of criminal involvement. It is a sobering and humbling to see children that have experienced physical or sexual abuse, come back into the system as victims or as criminally involved. It is heartbreaking to see them as adults suffering from addiction, domestic abuse, homelessness, and mental health challenges. This experience drives my commitment to treat all involved in the criminal justice system with compassion and to help provide them the community support they need to progress toward healing.
Prior to becoming an attorney, I worked with the American Red Cross, first as a volunteer substance abuse counselor then as an emergency services provider. I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. My entire life has been dedicated to public service. I believe I have a duty to give back to my community. Compassion, innovation, and community service are the keystones of my campaign.
3. What changes to the cash bail system, if any, do you support? Why? If you don’t support any changes, please explain why you think the current system is successful.
Cash bonds are prohibited in criminal proceedings in our district. We have converted to a pretrial release program that uses risk assessments and interviews by specially trained evaluators to provide the Court recommendations for conditions of release. Our bond policy also favors citation over arrest and release over detention. If I am elected District Attorney, I will advocate for additional social workers to work with the criminally involved to develop plans for safe and beneficial release, including release to substance abuse and mental health treatment. I also will advocate for the additional step of performing a trauma screening at first appearance so that we can identify past trauma that may be affecting a person’s ability to remain substance free, physically and mentally healthy, employed, and housed. This additional step will also provide us with a data set that we can use to determine what prior traumatic experiences are most prevalent in the detained population. Once we develop that data, we can craft community solutions to address trauma in our youth population. With this information, we can intervene early and help kids build resilience against negative outcomes. Together, we can help them build a life where they not only survive but thrive.
4. Do you support the expanded use of citations as an alternative to arrests? Under what circumstances do you believe citations should be issued?
Yes. This is the current policy of District 18. (See Footnote 2). Our bond policy states: “To promote efficiency and least harm resolutions, law enforcement officers are encouraged to issue a citation rather than make a custodial arrest in appropriate cases.” I believe that citations are the appropriate method to provide notice of charges and court date for criminal offenses that do not require arrest under the law. These include non-violent misdemeanors, city code violations and infractions. I fully support the Model Policy published on the School of Government Justice Innovation Lab website that states:
Citation is the appropriate process unless the law requires an arrest (Domestic Violence or misdemeanors that require fingerprinting for example); or release on a citation will not reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court; will pose a danger of injury to any person; is likely to result in destruction of evidence, subornation of perjury, or intimidation of potential witnesses; or exigent circumstances require an arrest (ex: officer observes a crime in progress that requires immediate intervention to stop the criminal act).
Even in cases that originate with magistrates instead of law enforcement, the majority of cases in Orange and Chatham Counties are processed without arrest. Magistrates in Chatham are issuing criminal summons in lieu of arrest warrants in 63% of cases, and Orange County magistrates are issuing them at a rate of 56%. The average for the state is 35%.
5. What do you think is the most effective way to deal with low-level drug offenders? What are or what would be your policies regarding plea bargaining in drug offense cases?
Low level drug offenders will continue to be provided the opportunity for treatment and diversion instead of conviction or incarceration. These programs have provided a path to well-being for many in our criminal justice system. Addiction is not a crime, but it can result in criminal involvement. In my experience, most property crimes and some crimes of violence are influenced or exacerbated by substance abuse addiction. With quality substance abuse treatment, we can reduce recidivism, improve community safety, and improve the life of the individual.
6. In terms of juvenile justice, what do you believe can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
I believe that safe homes make for safer communities. I will work with our juvenile courts, department of social services and our schools to identify and help at-risk children using the Adverse Childhood Experiences assessment tool. The ACEs tool identifies risk factors for future criminal involvement. (See Footnote 3) Once we identify those factors, we can help build resilience in the kids. The goal is to provide them the kind of community support that will help them overcome their trauma and move towards a safe and healthy future. Our action plan must address economic stability, family resiliency, early childhood education, mental and physical health, and community education and awareness of factors that contribute to child abuse and neglect. I will use the science of ACEs to craft treatment plans for adult offenders as well to address their own underlying trauma with the goal of reducing their court involvement and increasing public safety. (See Footnote 4).
I will advocate for and assist in the implementation of restorative justice circles in juvenile court. I believe this type of dedicated community intervention has the best chance to prevent delinquency and gang involvement. Children who are drawn to criminal gangs are often looking for a “family”, a sense of belonging that they do not have at home. We need to work to wrap them in support and services so they do not feel alone and can resist the lure of gangs. Restorative justice helps an offender to own what they did, make it right for those hurt or affected, and involves the community in helping both the victim and the offender. Restorative justice acknowledges that those who do wrong need healing as well. My plan is to reinvigorate our current program and expand it to both adult and juvenile court and into Chatham County.
7. As an assistant DA, how have you dealt with fatal use of force by the local police? If you are a challenger, how well do you think the incumbent DA has dealt with use of force by local law enforcement officers?
As an Assistant District Attorney, I have not dealt with a fatal use of force review. I am not running against an incumbent. The current District Attorney, James R. Woodall, Jr. is not seeking re-election. He has handled all prior fatal use of force investigations. I am not aware of any issues with his handling of these cases. I believe that everyone has a stake in assuring appropriate, proportional, and compassionate police response. I will work to identify and remedy problematic practices, identify bad actors, and use the tools of my office to pursue and punish those who violate the public trust.
8. It has been more than a decade since North Carolina executed anyone, and there has never been anyone sentenced to death row from District 18, Orange and Chatham County. Do you support capital punishment? Under what circumstances would you think it proper to seek the death penalty?
I do not support capital punishment in North Carolina. I will not authorize the office to seek capital punishment in Orange & Chatham Counties.
I would recommend that citizens interested in the science behind my position review Dr. Robinson’s 2021 Report: The Death Penalty in North Carolina (appstate.edu). I think it provides compelling data to support elimination of the Death Penalty in North Carolina. Those who support the death penalty as a sanction should take a hard look at that data, as well as the data on the cost of continuing to fund death penalty prosecutions in North Carolina. The data on the historical racial inequities is compelling. The Death Penalty has been presented to our citizens as the ultimate deterrent to crime. However, study after study has shown that the death penalty sanction has no significant deterrent to crime, is imposed inequitably, is cost prohibitive, and provides no finality of judgment to surviving families. Any way you examine the facts, there is no rational, equitable, justifiable reason to continue pursuing this sanction.
I understand the anguish of families of murder victims. My family has felt that pain and suffering. I know what it is like to attend court and confront a person that has committed the ultimate harm. I understand the desire for retribution for the harm caused. However, the death penalty does not, and cannot provide the solace the surviving family seeks. I have learned that anger and vengeance must be released in order to heal. I am at peace with my belief that the death penalty was not appropriate then, and I support the repeal of the death penalty today.
9. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
There is a nationwide movement to enact laws criminalizing access to reproductive care. I have worked closely with women and girls who have been victims of rape and incest for over 23 years. I have seen first-hand the trauma they suffer. I have seen women trapped in relationships with abusers by unwanted pregnancies, and children made into mothers as young as 12. Access to abortion in North Carolina is already restrictive and difficult to access, especially for marginalized communities. Our highest courts have repeatedly found that our Constitution guarantees everyone the right to make personal decisions about family and childbearing. I will honor my oath to uphold our Constitution. I will not be part of revictimizing women and children by prosecuting them for accessing medical care that is appropriate for them, complies with our medical standards of care, and is protected by the Constitution.
Footnote 1: Chatham, population 78,000, has approximately 39 served and pending served sexual assaults. 17 identified as White, 16 identified as Hispanic, 6 identified as Black, all but two offenders are identified as male. Orange County, population 149,000, has approximately 39 served and pending sexual assaults. 7 identified as Hispanic.
Footnote 2: 2 Chatham County uses citations in lieu of arrest in over 95% of cases. Orange County uses citations in lieu of arrest in over 92% of cases. The average for the state is 91%.
Footnote 3: 3 Individuals in high-risk groups have significantly higher ACE scores than in the original Kaiser Study. In one Florida study of juvenile offenders, 50% had ACE scores of 4 or more, meaning that they had experienced high levels of adversity presumably contributing to their behavioral health risks. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html & https://pinetreeinstitute.org/aces
Footnote 4: The ACE Score serves as a proxy for the level of adversity and has a “dose” relationship to adult health issues: The higher the ACE score, the more likely a person is to experience serious health challenges. Individuals with ACE scores of 4 or more were 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 7 times more likely to be alcoholic, and 10 times more likely to have injected street drugs. People with ACE scores of 6 and higher have an almost 20‐ year shortening of lifespan. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html & https://pinetreeinstitute.org/aces.