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- Walton favors restorative justice, which gives more power to survivors in determining what happens to assailants. In this model, survivors decide whether they want to participate in a dialogue with offenders.
- Walton has not said that her plan is no jail time for sexual predators.
- Walton's campaign has noted that mayors do not make sentencing laws, and that restorative justice programs would work in parallel with the existing criminal legal system.
India Walton is campaigning for Buffalo mayor on a different approach to criminal justice than her opponent, four-term incumbent Byron Brown.
Brown has seized on these differences.
"My opponent’s plan for people who commit sexual assault, sexual predators, is no jail time," Brown told a crowd at a fundraiser, according to a video posted by Investigative Post on Sept. 26. "No jail time for rapists, sexual predators, domestic abusers, she wants restorative justice for those kinds of individuals."
Brown’s campaign has previously made this claim, and we wanted to know if this is, indeed, what Walton wants.
We approached the Brown campaign for evidence, and it sent a video clip of Walton at a news conference, filmed Aug. 16, discussing her public safety plans.
She mentions "restorative justice," which, broadly, is an approach to public safety where people who are harmed have their needs met, and those who are responsible must make things right. If they consent, people who are harmed are involved in the resolution, and people who cause harm can atone for their acts. In general, restorative justice de-emphasizes incarceration, though some models work within the existing criminal system. Walton stressed in an in an August interview that restorative justice can be an option only if the person who has been harmed wants to pursue this approach.
In the clip the Brown campaign sent, Walton says: "To protect potential future survivors, we will provide individuals who have committed harm pathways to accountability, amends, growth and healing, through community-based restorative justice programs."
It’s similar to the plan she published in an essay in the Buffalo News.
In neither case did she explicitly say no jail time for rapists.
In an interview with WGRZ-TV, posted on July 1, she said that when she speaks with groups who favor abolishing police and prisons, she tells them the structure to replace policing does not exist yet.
"It’s not for me, necessarily about getting rid of police altogether," Walton said. "And when I speak to members of the activist community who are abolitionists, I say we haven't created the structure to replace policing yet. It would be great if we could move away from punitive measures. There are certain countries where they have been successful at doing that. We’re not ready, right? And that’s why we have to reimagine community safety as a whole."
We also looked at Walton’s public safety platform, where she says that in cases of sexual and intimate partner violence, investments should be made in community-based programs that provide safety and independent living for survivors, and support services in the community for offenders.
"In order to move those who have harmed others along a path to accountability, amends, growth, and healing, and protect potential future survivors, we must invest in non-carceral community-based support services and restorative justice programs."
Walton told the Intercept in the spring that she envisions a world without police.
"I am an abolitionist," she said. "But I am also realistic enough to know that it can’t happen in one fell swoop. Because we have not built the infrastructure to maintain safety in our communities."
She said she is more pragmatic than some other activists.
"Governance means that sometimes you don’t always get to do what you believe," she said.
We read and listened to Walton's media interviews, and couldn't find instances where Walton said she doesn't want jail time for rapists. But Walton also hasn't talked up locking up violent sexual offenders. Much of her campaign messaging is about using different approaches to public safety, about using police to solve crime, and leaving other activities, such as getting residents to cut their tall grass or enforce traffic laws, to civilians.
We asked her campaign what she means by "non-carceral community-based support services," and whether her definition of restorative justice means people wouldn't go to prison.
Jesse Myerson, Walton’s director of communications, said that the candidate has never proposed ending jail time for rapists, and said that mayors do not make sentencing laws.
As a survivor of sexual assault, Walton wishes she had had a chance to confront her assailant, and have a conversation where each was supported by their community, to facilitate healing and growth, but that does not mean that criminal legal proceedings are discarded, Myerson said.
"Without community-supported restorative justice processes of the sort she hopes to cultivate in office, the only option is handing the situation over to the police -- an option which all but makes accountability impossible, since those who've committed harm are basically forced to deny culpability, rather than atone and make amends, or else face time in prison, where sexual violence is notoriously rampant," Myerson said. "These processes would happen parallel to the criminal legal system, which would of course continue to investigate, prosecute, and sentence those convicted of crimes."
Walton wants poor and working class communities to have the resources to handle their own problems without resorting to police, Myerson said. But "this does not imply releasing convicted sex offenders or instructing police not to enforce laws against sexual violence."
In restorative justice approaches, survivors have more influence in what happens after a crime, and they may want incarceration for their attacker, or they may not, Myerson said.
Brown said that Walton wants "no jail time" for sexual offenders.
Walton has talked about wanting to move away from punitive measures, and favors a restorative justice approach, where survivors have input into whether their assailants are locked up or make amends in the community. Walton’s preference for focusing on survivors and their needs does not mean she is proposing all sexual offenders stay out of jail.
We rate his claim False.
Investigative Post, video of Mayor Byron Brown speaking at a fund-raiser, "Brown’s talking points, and other news," Sept. 26, 2021. Accessed Oct. 1, 2021.
Video clip of India Walton news conference on public safety platform, Aug. 16, 2021, provided by Brown campaign. Accessed Oct. 7, 2021.
Video, India Walton news conference, Aug. 16, 2021, via Walton campaign. Accessed Oct. 10, 2021.
WIVB-TV, story, "‘Women For Walton’ rally against Byron Brown’s campaign advertisement," Sept. 24, 2021. Accessed Oct. 9, 2021.
Email, phone interviews, Jesse Myerson, campaign spokesperson, India Walton campaign, Oct. 8-12, 2021.
The Buffalo News, essay, "Viewpoints: It's time to get serious about public safety," by India Walton. Aug. 15, 2021. Accessed Oct. 10, 2021.
WGRZ-TV, via YouTube, video, "Full interview: One on one with India Walton," July 1, 2021. Accessed Oct. 5, 2021.
Email interview, Max Medwin, deputy campaign manager, Brown for Buffalo campaign, Oct. 4, 2021.
WKBW-TV via YouTube, video, "Public safety in Buffalo addressed on the campaign trail," Aug. 16, 2021. Accessed Oct. 9, 2021.
Facebook, India Walton, post, Sept. 27. 2021. Accessed Oct. 10. 2021.
India Walton campaign website, "Policy Agenda: Getting Serious About Public Safety." Accessed Oct. 10, 2021.
The Intercept, "Socialist India Walton Will Be Buffalo’s Next Mayor," June 23, 2021. Accessed Oct. 10, 2021.
WBEN, interview, "Buffalo Mayoral Race: India Walton and Byron Brown discuss public safety, gun violence, and public perception," Aug. 23, 2021. Accessed Oct. 12, 2021.
Greater Good Magazine, "Can Restorative Justice Help Prisoners to Heal?," The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, June 9, 2015. Accessed Oct. 14, 2021.
WKBW-TV, video, "WATCH: India Walton on her plans for Buffalo after defeating incumbent Mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary," June 23, 2021. Accessed Oct. 11, 2021.
Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, restorative justice slide deck, undated. Accessed Oct. 11, 2021.
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