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Interview: DA candidate Zena McClain
Zena McClain

ZENA MCCLAIN is in private practice in Savannah, mainly concentrating on criminal law, employment law and civil litigation. The Washington, D.C., native is a graduate of Howard University.

How do your ideas for the DA's office differ from your opponents?

Zena McClain: I'm much more for broad fundamental changes. Look at the criminal justice system as a whole in Georgia. After expanding the prison system to the fifth largest in the country, we've increased incarceration rates to over 60,000 inmates, with some of the toughest criminal laws in nation. We're increasing the number on probation and spending more money to house offenders.

It’s time to take a new direction. We have to adopt a new concept and begin a totally different conversation about how we deal with crime in this county. That’s what’s been absent from that office.

We’ve had three successive reigns, with each District Attorney holding office for three decades or longer. Each has been absent from the table for discussion, absent from the community, and absent from our concerns. Citizens deserve a DA who is willing to commit to them and their peace of mind. One who’s unbiased and efficient.

Also they deserve an office not known for indicting a ham sandwich. That’s where I differ from the two gentlemen with prior prosecutorial experience. They have been a product of that policy.

What exactly do you mean by 'indicting a ham sandwich?'

Zena McClain: They'll indict anything they get. It's a rubber stamp for anything the police department sends their way. That's not what a prosecutor is supposed to do. They must zealously represent the first client, the victim. At the same time the DA must insure they seek out the truth in all cases. That means protecting the innocent. I'm running because the citizens deserve a DA who will balance the scales of justice with fairness.

How does that criticism square with the common complaint that the DA's office has been far too slow to prosecute criminals?

Zena McClain: That's what I mean. They sit on cases because they haven't developed good cases. They don't have the evidence necessary to build a sound case to guarantee a conviction. I'm talking about developing good investigative procedures so that when we take a case to trial we're not just taking any case to court. It's a waste of taxpayers money. I have felony cases reaching back almost four years, that haven't been indicted. They sit on cases because they are weak cases.

No one wants crime in their community. But being smart on crime means we must recognize that prosecution must not strictly be reactionary to crime. The DA’s office must explore crime prevention initiatives. I will advocate for better rehabilitation programs. I’ll work hard to expand the Savannah Impact program, which counsels and prepares prior offenders for reentering society. That helps with the revolving door issue.

I will create a community advisory board of individuals selected from every neighborhood association, neighborhood leaders. These will be people at the grassroots level trying to make the community safe.

I went to one community center, and they were talking about how they had their air conditioning unit stolen twice. Those individuals have a right to know what is happening to the individual we’re prosecuting who stole those AC systems. They deserve input on what they’d like to see happen.

Often when people steal they have drug issues. They’re not violent, they need to go and get drug treatment. Perhaps they can work off their community service at that same community center, so that they’ll know what they did and have a sense of what harm they caused.

A lot of your ideas sound like something we're more likely to hear from a mayoral candidate or county commission candidate.

Zena McClain: But that's exactly what a DA does: they make the community safe, whether it's prosecuting, or advocating for better laws. A DA is supposed to lead those discussions, that's what we pay them for. I'm here to solve problems. My practice reflects that.

I didn’t enter law to make a bunch of money. I decided to go and solve problems. That’s why I decided to run in this race.