The authorization of $10 million for the Justice Department's community prosecution program is a great step forward in localities' ability to continue the downward trend of crime [Federal Page, Nov. 26].
Alexandria's community prosecution initiative has shown positive results with Latino residents. Language barriers and cultural issues often have caused these individuals to forgo a role in the criminal justice system. The result has been a failure to appear as witnesses and cases being dropped for lack of prosecution.
Prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, police officers and victim-witness advocates have come together with Latinos to address these problems. Individuals learned about rights to witness confidentiality, collecting restitution for their injuries and how accessible Alexandria's criminal justice system can be even to those who speak only Spanish. After the group of criminal justice professionals began outreach efforts, the number of Latino witnesses failing to appear for court dropped from 30 percent to about 8 percent -- evidence that community prosecution works.
However, as a small locality, Alexandria is able to engage in only modest outreach without some assistance. The authority provided by Congress to the Justice Department to improve community prosecution programs will allow Alexandria to apply for funding to increase its efforts, place a prosecutor and victim-witness advocate within the community and continue to educate people about protecting themselves from crime. The Justice Department understands that prosecutors serve the public well when they work to deter crimes, not just to prosecute them.
ERIK R. BARNETT
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney