Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Too Sexy for Community Prosecution?

by Debra Mares

What if police officers and prosecutors put their law books and police reports down to focus on preventing crime? Instead of arresting and prosecuting people, they would intervene early and steer a slipping individual back on track. Does this make for a good story? Or a good movie? Gaby Ruiz, the main character and Latina prosecutor in my debut novel, The Mamacita Murders seems to think so. Gaby Ruiz runs The Mamacita Club, a community outreach effort, from her chrome vintage Airstream motorhome. Gaby travels in the Airstream with her angel friends to different trailer parks in the fictional Tuckford County. They host interventions and meetings to help women, who are at risk of becoming victims of crime or committing crimes themselves. Gaby’s special angel powers help her see who needs help. Plus her gut intuition tells her. In real life, this is called community prosecution. Attorneys, paralegals, police officers, and probation officers go out into the community and bring awareness about crime and how to prevent it. They monitor youth and come up with strict programs to get them back on track.

But community prosecution is rarely depicted in the media or crime novels. Traditionally, the prosecutor is depicted in the courtroom, not the community. The detectives are seen out in the street solving crimes, not preventing them. Why is that? Is community prosecution not sexy enough? Is it not as juicy as a crime scene or interrogation? Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. It’s a facet of the criminal justice system that the public should be more aware of. Community prosecution is a proven method at reducing crime rates; it’s just not frequently used. The media has the power to move people and motivate social change, and indeed community prosecution is a sexy enough facet of the criminal justice system worth moving. It can make for good story telling as well. Take for example Freedom Writers, a film starring Hilary Swank grossing over 43 million dollars based on the New York Times Bestseller The Freedom Writer’s Diary. This movie portrayed the real life story of school teacher Erin Gruwell and Room 203 at Wilson High School in Long Beach. Gruwell transformed her classroom made up of “rejects” into motivated graduates, many who went on to college. It was all because she believed in them and intervened early to help steer them back on track. Gruwell’s creative education wasn’t boring on the big screen or in Room 203. Perhaps it was the real-life story of Erin Gruwell combined with the stories of her students, which made it the success it was. Regardless, it made for a great story. And it transformed education. Teachers today employ Gruwell’s lessons and students everywhere are still motivated by them.

Following similar suit in the context of a crime fiction, The Mamacita Murders tells Gaby Ruiz’ story. She goes out into the community to help troubled women, which has always been Gaby’s mission, at least since she was twelve years old when her mother died and became the angel on her shoulder. Gaby Ruiz’ story and The Mamacita Club is not that far off from what real life community prosecutors do today. And it’s not very different from what heroes like Erin Gruwell have done. So what do you think? Does community prosecution make for a good story? Is it sexy enough for crime fiction and the big screen? Does it work in The Mamacita Murders? Would it work in non-fiction? Email me your comments to Debra@DebraMaresNovels.com. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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