Q&A: Delaware attorney general hopefuls address issues

Name: Kathy Jennings

Party: Democrat

Office seeking: Attorney general

Age: 65

Occupation: Attorney

Family: Two adult children — Billy and Becky

Elective experience: I have never previously run for office before.

Name: Bernard Pepukayi

Party: Republican

Office seeking: Attorney general

Age: 45

Occupation: Attorney

Family: Divorced/father of two sons

Elective experience: First-time candidate

Why are you running for this office?

KJ: I am running for attorney general to make Delaware a place where justice is fair and equal for everyone, where people suffering from addiction receive the treatment they deserve and where all children are safe from harm.

BP: I am running for attorney general because the criminal justice system does not work, and I am the most qualified candidate who will make substantive and meaningful change. My experience with the criminal justice system is unlike any other having been tested on both sides of the law. The safety of all Delawareans and the lives of those unnecessarily affected by the system cannot withstand the same policies, practices and people.

What would be your top priority if elected?

KJ: My top priority as attorney general is to make Delaware a safer place for all of us to live, work, and most importantly raise our children. As attorney general, I will work to ensure that every citizen is treated fairly by the justice system, regardless of race, religion, gender or zip code. We have a moral obligation to treat everyone with respect, integrity and fairness. The attorney general is the “people’s lawyer” — therefore, I will work tirelessly to create a safe environment for all Delawareans to thrive.

BP: Making our communities safer while reducing the amount of people in the criminal justice system. I will establish new policies related to cases that are being prosecuted. I will begin with our children. The focus of prosecution should be on matters that present a public safety threat. Children should not be included in the criminal system as a temporary convenience. This over-inclusiveness has strained the system and has caused services within the system to become ineffective. If the number of persons in the criminal system is reduced, the services offered to those in the system will be more effective. This, in combination with helping to eliminate barriers to employment and services for those convicted of crimes, will make our state safer and help reduce recidivism.

If you could change one policy or law, what would it be?

Kathy Jennings

KJ: If I could change one law in Delaware, I would choose to end the unjust cash bail system. The size of one’s bank account should not determine whether they remain incarcerated pending trial. Lives are destroyed — jobs lost, families broken up, children hungry — because of the unjust cash bail system. I support the use of a risk-based bail system that considers the risks individuals pose to the safety of the community and their likelihood to show up to trial, not their ability to pay. This will not only be fairer for the accused but also reduce overcrowding in our prisons.

BP: I will change the prosecution policies toward children who are charged with crimes related to school offenses. Common sense will prevail. The default will no longer be to criminally charge a child for any action during school that may be perceived as an offense.

How would you work with other state officials, mainly lawmakers?

KJ: I have spent my career working alongside elected officials to fight for a fairer, safer Delaware. I have a proven record of working with elected officials and community leaders to improve our justice system. Whether it was working with Rep. J.J. Johnson to end unjust mandatory minimum laws or with Sen. Margaret Rose Henry to reform our bail system, I have the experience and proven leadership to get things done in Delaware. As attorney general, I will work with elected officials and community leaders throughout our state to address the underlaying causes of crime.

BP: I will work with state officials and lawmakers by remaining ready to provide quality legal advice and substantive support when requested. Additionally, I am willing to consider suggestions for changes in policies within the Department of Justice when necessary to advance justice, rather than requiring mandated changes in law.

What changes would you seek to make in the criminal justice system?

KJ: If elected attorney general, I will fight to end the cash bail system, reform the mandatory minimum laws, expand the expungement process for juveniles and low- level adult offenders, advocate for more judicial discretion and less mandatory minimum and provide quality re-entry services to incarcerated Delawareans. By changing our laws and how we measure success, we can create a more just system in Delaware.

Bernard Pepukayi

BP: I will seek to change/improve the relationship between communities throughout our state and law enforcement. I will be an attorney general from the people and for the people. I will have monthly office hours to meet with any member of the public who desires to have an appointment with the attorney general. I will actively engage in community events statewide. I will require deputy attorneys general to mentor children who are in “at-risk” situations. This will be the start of a new relationship between the Department of Justice and communities throughout Delaware that feel abandoned by our justice system.

I will make sure the Department of Justice is representative of the communities it serves. The Attorney General’s Office should be reflective of Delaware. Currently, the lack minority representation is unacceptable. This lack of representation has been blamed on the lack of qualified minority attorneys and the lack of minority attorneys who desire to be employed with public service. I do not believe this to be accurate.

As New Castle County attorney, I transformed the County Law Department into the most diverse department in New Castle County government. In addition, this was done without sacrificing quality. Diverse candidates wanted to work in the office because it was a welcoming environment for diversity. This diversity helped the law department perform exceptionally well for county government. As attorney general, I will do the same.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana? Why or why not?

KJ: I support the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana arrests have led to overincarceration in our prisons and has not made us safer. While I support the legalization of marijuana, we need to ensure that there are safeguards put in place to ensure that we have safe driving limits, safe working conditions and safe policies that prevent children from accessing marijuana. Prior to a legalization effort, we need to have clearly defined standards to ensure the safety of all Delawareans.

BP: I support the use of medical marijuana and I support the decriminalization of possession of marijuana. I am uncertain whether the full legalization of marijuana is in the best interest of Delaware. I believe there are many issues unresolved and more information needed for a proper determination of whether to support the legalization of marijuana. For example, Delaware has no mechanism to determine whether someone is unlawfully driving under the influence of marijuana. This presents a serious public safety issue and places Delawareans at harm.

Do you support greater gun control? Why or why not?

KJ: I support greater gun control because no child should have to fear being shot in Delaware. No one piece of legislation will put a halt to all gun violence in our state but we must implement common sense measures that will protect all Delawareans. As attorney general, I will be fully committed to using my office’s resources to reduce gun violence throughout our state.

BP: I support greater gun control related to keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally unstable and those who are not legally allowed to possess firearms.

Would you support reinstating the death penalty?

KJ: I do not support reinstating the death penalty. As attorney general, I would advocate in the General Assembly against new death penalty legislation. During my career I have represented an individual who was on death row and I deeply understand the seriousness and the implications when the state decides to seek the death penalty. The death penalty has proven to not make us any safer.

During the years that the state had the death penalty on the books, we still had high rates of violent crime. It is also the case that the amount of resources required to prosecute a death penalty case are extraordinary and the office’s limited resources are better utilized towards efforts that make us safer.

BP: No.

What should be done to combat Delaware’s drug crisis?

KJ: People who are struggling with addiction should receive a helping hand, not a prison cell. It is reported that 860,000 opioid prescriptions are issued in Delaware each year. While opioids have becoming increasingly easier to access, drug treatment services have become more and more difficult to find. Individuals struggling with addiction deserve quality treatment and easy-to-access support.

As attorney general, I will work to expand programs that help people overcome addiction and I will hold drug manufacturers accountable by continuing Delaware’s lawsuit against drug producers, manufacturers and distributors who knowingly misrepresent the addictive nature of their products. I will work closely with local, state, and federal officials to identify and prosecute individuals involved and profiting in the distribution of drugs. I will use my office’s resources to ensure those struggling with addiction receive the help they deserve, not a prison cell. We must enhance our efforts in the drug diversion courts and reduce barriers to treatment and expedite the process.

By identifying treatment service gaps and barriers we can increase the quality and breadth of services we provide to all Delawareans. As attorney general, I will treat the opioid epidemic for what it is — a public health epidemic — by making Delaware a place where those who need it receive a helping hand on their path to long-term recovery.

BP: Delaware’s drug crisis should be addressed with a wider eye towards treatment. More treatment facilities and greater options for diversion from the justice system are needed for those in addiction. As New Castle County attorney, I worked with our police force to provide officers with the use of Narcan to save lives. This effort was the first in Delaware and one of the first in the country.

As attorney general, I will work with state agencies to get more resources for treatment and implement policies in the Department of Justice to assure proper referral to treatment for those in need. Today we know part of the problem lies with the way we medically treat pain. We need stricter requirements on physicians to document why and how many painkillers are prescribed. Also, we need stricter requirements for pharmacies on the quantities and renewal of prescriptions.

There are individuals who sell drugs illegally. We must crack down on those major sellers who are the real threat to our neighborhoods. They should be criminally prosecuted and appropriately sentenced. We must also detect and bring to justice those medical professionals who are not following the law or their ethical obligations when prescribing medications.

Is there anything else you think is pertinent?

BP: Did not answer.

KJ: I have dedicated my career to fighting for justice by prosecuting hundreds of domestic violence, sexual assault and homicide cases to get justice for victims and their families. As Delaware’s first woman to serve as state prosecutor and first woman chief deputy attorney general, I worked to reform our criminal justice system and keep our communities safe. My years of experience and proven record of reform makes me qualified to be Delaware’s next attorney general.


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