Wake Forest Law host Dallas’ first black DA as he discusses his crime fighting experiences

Craig Wakins made history in 2006 when he became the first African American in Texas history to be elected as a District Attorney.

Watkins continues to make waves with his decidedly different approach to prosecution. The Dallas County DA shared his insight and highlighted his office’s approach to battling crime last week as part of Wake Forest School of Law’s “Conversation With” series at Worrell Professional Center.

Mark Rabil, director of the law school’s Innocence and Justice Clinic, which sponsored Watkins’ visit along with the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), moderated a Q&A session with Watkins, who in true Texas fashion donned cowboy boots with his suit.

Over the course of his six-year tenure, Watkins has ushered in a new era for Dallas County, which is home to 84 different law enforcement agencies, by being what he calls “smart on crime.”

“When you commit a crime, that time that you’re incarcerated should be used to rehabilitate a person … so that when that person comes back to our community, they’ll be a law abiding citizen,” Watkins said. “That’s being smart on crime.”

Though he has no official capacity to impact the state’s educational system, Watkins says he works closely with stakeholders in education and other areas of society that he says have an indirect impact on crime rates. Lack of education is widely known to be statistically linked to a person’s likelihood to become involved in criminal activity, so ensuring that students are properly educated is an important component in reducing crime in a state that is home to the largest prison population in America, Watkins said.

“In Texas, we spend $64 a day to incarcerate a person but we only spend $8 a day to educate them, so what do you expect? The (prison) populations are going to go up,”Watkins said.

Watkins has overseen considerable innovative approaches such as the Convictions Integrity Unit, a two-man team of assistant district attorneys that he created during his first year in office to “review and re-investigate legitimate post conviction claims of innocence in accordance with the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.” The unit, which is thought to be the first of its kind in the country, has secured 33 exonerations since its inception in 2007, more than three times the number of the entire state of North Carolina.

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