By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — Attorney Kyle Parks has some innovative ideas for the criminal justice system in Davidson County, he said in an interview Saturday.
Parks is seeking the judge’s role for Criminal Court Division III, where, if elected, he would challenge the notion of “being tough on crime.”
That prescription hasn’t led the community to the fabled crimeless utopia its progenitors have said it would, and Parks relayed it’s time for a new, restorative approach to the criminal justice system that respects the humanity of all those who come to court.
Hesitant to speak negatively of his opponent, Kyle said he took personally some of the treatment of those who come before the court.
“Following the law should be the floor, not the ceiling,” Parks said of judges’ responsibility. “You can follow the law and give someone 100 years in jail for a nonviolent offense. You can follow the law and be rude. You can follow the law and be demeaning, and talk down [to people]. You can follow the law and, you know, appear as if the community you’ve had and the service that you’ve given to others is lost because you are doing by the book what it says to be done,” he continued. “No one wants to be in criminal court whether you are the defendant or the victim.”
The emotions of fear, anger and grief are all escalated and a judge has no shortage of power or resources to alleviate a tense situation, Parks said. “Not recognizing [those emotions] and then confirming their fears or suspicions by this callousness, I think, exacerbates issues that already exist.”
He also supports bond reform, particularly in setting bails, which he said is a major obstacle to justice in criminal court, especially for nonwhite offenders charged with nonviolent crimes.
Some of these charges lead to exorbitant bond amounts, and if you’re in jail on a bond you can’t afford, Parks said, you’re likely to accept any deal that comes before you to get out, such as a 10-year probation sentence.
Unfortunately a lack of tools to not reoffend compounded with the societal consequences of incarceration usually lead to a violation of probation and more jail time.
This issue dovetails with mental illness, including law enforcement response to those with behavioral health problems. Though Metro Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake has made some moves to prioritize police training for de-escalation, the goal would be to get all of Metro trained, Parks said.
He also added that if elected, he’d pursue the establishment of a mental health diversionary court in the criminal divisions.
Parks noted he doesn’t want to excuse making poor decisions, but in the meantime judges can make their own small mark on the bench by choosing to set lower bonds for nonviolent offenses and prioritize treatment, not just incarceration.
He said that as a defense attorney, he’s seen the cracks in the system firsthand.
“What you’re seeing this year is an unapologetic voice of dissension,” Parks said of calls for rehabilitative and restorative justice, and added that to reduce crime and uphold justice, the court must ask why a crime was committed in the first place.
“We need equity in the justice system. Equity is an accounting for the individual that is in front of [the court], and what is best for them compared to what they’ve done to make the victim whole. We don’t need equality– justice cannot be for all if it’s equal. Any law that applies to everybody is going to impact Black and Brown people more.”
“I can’t stop you from coming into the system, but I can have a major impact on how the system treats you and what we do to try to make your situation better,” Parks said, adding while he wouldn’t be able to make everyone in the court happy every day, he can demand everyone is heard.
Early voting for the primary ends today and Election Day is Tuesday, May 3.
For more information on his campaign, visit voteforkyleparks.com.