Re-Elect Tompkins County
Matt Van Houten
Experienced Progressive Prosecutor
*Matt is a lifelong Democrat. He was elected as District Attorney in 2016.
*Matt is a graduate of Dryden High School (1985), West Point (1989) and Albany Law School (1995).
*After graduation from law school, Matt began his legal career in Ithaca, where he practiced in the areas of family and matrimonial law, civil litigation, and criminal defense. He has more than 24 years of legal experience.
*Matt has extensive experience in the courtroom. As a defense attorney and as a prosecutor, he has tried many cases before a jury, including assault, robbery, homicide, weapons possession, and vehicular crimes.
*Under Matt's leadership, the District Attorney's Office has been on the forefront of progressive prosecution. His office is fully engaged in treatment courts at the felony and misdemeanor level, Wellness and Recovery Court (mental health), and he has been an advocate for the implementation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.
*Matt has maintained a respectful relationship with the County Legislature. His annual budgets have been pragmatic and fiscally responsible.
*Matt has been an active member of the Criminal Justice Alternatives to Incarceration Board. He was a member of the task force that formed the Ithaca City Wellness and Recovery Court which focuses on individuals facing mental health challenges. His office is an integral member of the Multi-Disciplinary Team that meets weekly to focus on cases involving sexual crimes including crimes against children.
*Member of Board of Directors, Southside Community Center, 2016 - 2019.
Alternatives to Incarceration
Ithaca City Treatment Court
Matt has been a strong supporter of the wide array of alternatives to incarceration that are available in Tompkins County. The Ithaca City Treatment Court (ICTC) is a problem-solving court in which participants engage in a program of intensive supervision designed to help them address substance abuse and maintain a healthy, stable lifestyle. Participants are people who have been arrested for drug possession or a property crime arising out of substance abuse.
We know that putting someone in jail because of a drug problem will not fix the problem. That person eventually gets out of jail without addressing their substance abuse issue, and may have lost their children, job or housing in the meantime. Addiction is a powerful disease and it takes a tremendous amount of support to sustain abstinence. Treatment Courts are abstinence based, as opposed to other “harm reduction” models. It’s very common for participants to relapse but if they are honest and forthcoming, they are allowed to continue in the program, likely with more conditions or supervision.
It is very important that the District Attorney’s Office engage fully with ICTC. This involves court sessions, team meetings and a significant time commitment monitoring progress and reviewing prospective participants. In 2017 when Matt took office, the prosecutor assigned to ICTC simply did not have enough time to fully participate in ICTC and meet his other court obligations. During the 2018 budget process, Matt successfully fought for an additional attorney so that the District Attorney’s Office could be fully engaged in ICTC. The additional attorney has significantly improved the success of the court, diverting many individuals from jail to a healthier, stable lifestyle.
Wellness & Recovery Court
Wellness & Recovery Court is the alternative to incarceration focused on diverting individuals who struggle with mental health diagnoses from potential incarceration through a problem-solving court that focuses on structure, support, and positive reinforcement. Incarceration should be the last resort when resolving a criminal case, and Wellness & Recovery Court provides another valuable option to help individuals instead of punishing them. Many individuals suffer from substance abuse disorders in addition to mental health diagnoses. Wellness & Recovery Court focuses on individuals whose primary diagnosis is mental health related. Matt was an integral member of the task force, led by Judge Scott Miller, that created and implemented Wellness & Recovery Court in the City of Ithaca. The Wellness & Recovery Court was the first of its kind in our judicial district and has been a major success since it was launched in the spring of 2019.
Wellness & Recovery Court is for individuals charged with non-violent offenses. Matt’s belief is that it should be as inclusive as possible without placing the safety and health of the other participants or the community at risk. The planning process is in motion to expand Wellness & Recovery Court to include non-violent felony offenses, something that Matt has supported from the beginning.
The District Attorney’s Office is fully engaged in Wellness & Recovery Court. This includes regular court sessions, team meetings, and careful consideration of potential new participants, as well as monitoring the progress of current participants. An assistant district attorney is assigned to Wellness & Recovery Court and her full engagement is possible because of Matt’s successful budget presentation to the County Legislature in the fall of 2017.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a pre-arrest diversion program that has been implemented in several cities, including Albany and Seattle. Matt has been a part of the planning group for LEAD since its inception. The purpose of LEAD is to divert individuals from the criminal justice system by connecting them with services instead of arresting them. The individual will be given the option to connect with a case manager and to follow up with recommended services. If the individual follows up, the potential criminal charges are never filed with the court, and the person is never at risk of incarceration.
LEAD is for non-violent, lower level charges that can be attributed to homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness and other similar factors. By helping people address those concerns, we help them get healthy and stable, which produces a positive impact on the community. If they are re-arrested for a new offense, the individual will be re-evaluated and may be prosecuted.
Matt is fully supportive of LEAD and is hopeful that it will be implemented in Tompkins County in 2020. The District Attorney’s Office and the Ithaca Police Department are ready to launch the program once the administrative component is in place.
June 23, 2020
Tompkins County Democratic Primary Election
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Checks may be mailed to "Matt Van Houten for District Attorney" 20 Orchard Hill Road, Ithaca, New York 14850