For the first time in a generation – 28 years – there’s no incumbent in the race for Cumberland County district attorney.

Republican Stephanie Anderson has held the post since 1990, but she announced late last year that she wouldn’t run again.

Now, three Democrats – Jon Gale, Seth Levy and Frayla Tarpinian – are running for the seat, joined by Republican Randall Bates, a defense attorney, and independent Jonathan Sahrbeck, a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office. A fourth Democratic candidate, Patrick H. Gordon, dropped out of the race earlier this spring.

All three Democratic candidates say they want to lead efforts to reform criminal justice as the DA.

Gale, who was a prosecutor before becoming a defense lawyer, said focusing on and addressing the causes of crime is the most effective way to reduce criminal activity. He said many cases can be handled best by steering people into substance abuse treatment programs or mental health treatment. That’s also a more effective way of reducing the chance of repeat crime, he said, and a less expensive way to deal with crime – in most cases, he said, it costs more to prosecute and jail people than to get them into treatment.

But the approach takes time and requires commitment, Gale said.

“People who have serious substance abuse issues fail often,” he said at a forum in May for candidates hosted by the ACLU of Maine. “They can go back to using and it takes a great deal of patience.”

Gale also said he favors changes in the use of bail – money posted by suspects to be released from jail after an arrest. Bail is meant to ensure that they will return to court.

But Gale said bail often results in suspects spending a long time in jail waiting for trial, even for relatively minor charges.

“I do flatly disagree with that approach and, as district attorney, we’re not going to do that,” he said.

Levy and Tarpanian also said they would like to get rid of or lower cash bail for those unlikely to offend again.

Levy calls his approach “triage,” and said that if he’s elected, prosecutors will look at all the circumstances of a crime and determine the best course forward for society, the victim and the suspect. There’s little point in just freeing someone to await trial, he said, if they are homeless or need treatment.

Those suspects are unlikely to break the law again, Levy said, and the DA’s office should make sure those who are released have a place to go and are able to keep a job if they are freed while waiting for trial.

Levy, who was raped as an 11-year-old, said he knows how important police and prosecutors can be for victims of crime. Levy said he was prepared to testify against the man who raped him and the strong stand by detectives investigating the case and by prosecutors led the man to plead guilty and be sentenced to 50 years in prison.

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He said he wants to pursue “serious sentences for serious crime,” while also favoring an expansion of restorative justice, a program that allows victims and offenders to meet and discuss ways to repair the harm caused by a crime.

Levy also wants to start a young adult court to deal with offenders 18 to 24 years old, an age at which he believes research shows offers the best chance for rehabilitation.

Tarpinian, a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office in Kennebec County, also said she will seek to reduce the use of cash bail to secure release from jail before trial.

Tarpinian heads Kennebec County’s domestic assault, sexual assault and elder abuse units in the District Attorney’s Office there.

She said she has the experience to put criminal justice reform into action.

Her experience working on domestic violence and sexual assault cases means she will aggressively prosecute those cases in Cumberland County, she said. But she also wants to expand access to the drug court, a separate court unit that focuses exclusively on drug crimes. She said greater use of that court could lead to getting more drug offenders into treatment and diversion programs.

Like Levy, Tarpinian would like to see a veterans court established in the county to help deal with criminal issues that involve veterans, and also beef up the restorative justice approach. She said those initiatives would help break a “cycle of incarceration,” in which people break the law at a young age and end up going back and forth to jail for subsequent crimes through most of their lives.

Tarpinian also wants to see some changes in juvenile justice, saying the state needs to re-examine how it uses the Long Creek Youth Development Center.

Too often, she said, young offenders are sent to the South Portland facility for the wrong reasons and the focus on treatment is sometimes missing.

“Nobody should be locked up in jail for their own safety,” Tarpinian said.

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