I’m Hobie Crystle, and Lancaster has been my home since I was a child. My mom graduated from McCaskey, and so did I. My dad, Dr. Deans Crystle, was a well-known doctor around here, and he taught me the importance of public service. After stints abroad, I moved back home to Lancaster to be closer to my family 23 years ago.
I have worked as a lawyer representing the little guy my whole career. I was reluctant to join this race, as I’d never considered running for office. In fact, I started my own law practice to escape the bureaucracy of government.
I’ve been fighting for nearly 30 years, one case at a time, to help regular working folks get justice. The system has been working great for the millionaires and CEOs, but regular people like you and me don’t always get a fair shake. I’m fed up with putting Band-Aid after Band-Aid on a system that wastes money and leaves people suffering. The opportunity to run for an open office that can change the system from the top down was a challenge I had to accept.
Every day, I’m troubled by the case of one young man I represented who was arrested for having a small amount of narcotics. He was living with both a mental illness and a substance-use disorder, and this wasn’t his first run-in with the police. With no money to post bail, he sat in prison for weeks on end without medication or treatment. Instead, he was thrust into a dungeon among strangers who, frankly, didn’t care whether he lived or died. And sadly, he did die. Without being offered any help, he died by suicide in the prison.
When I think back on my career, I remember too many stories like this young man’s, where someone’s son or daughter died because our justice system failed to keep them safe and healthy. And I know those stories don’t have to end that way.
So I’m running for district attorney because I want to make Lancaster a safer and healthy place for the people we love. From the start, this campaign hasn’t been about me. It’s about people sitting in prison because they are too poor to post bail. It’s about moms and dads living with an addiction, who are treated as criminals instead of being given the help they need — and all the kids put into foster care while their parents are jailed for being sick. It’s about creating a justice system that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected.
Our current justice system is a grossly expensive failure. About 70% of people sent to Lancaster County Prison get sent back to prison after they’re released. We spend nearly $29 million in taxpayer dollars per year to incarcerate people in Lancaster, but that money does nothing to prepare them for a normal life when they are released. Instead, it churns out people who still suffer from the underlying problems that got them sent to jail in the first place, setting them up for another round of punishment. It’s no wonder we’re not safer.
Every study on community safety is clear: Safer communities prioritize using resources to make people’s lives better. And that means giving people the tools to go back to their families and return to work sober, healthy and educated. In Seattle in 2011, the district attorney decided to stop prosecuting people arrested with only enough narcotics to feed their addiction and, instead, connect them with resources to get them housing, jobs and treatment. When people with addictions got support instead of prison, the number of felonies they committed went down by nearly 40%.
This can happen in Lancaster, when we use proven, evidence-based practices that increase health and safety. But we can’t do it with the same approaches that got us into this mess. We need a leader who has spent their career doing the work of defending our community. We need leadership who represented grandmas and nuns pro bono when they were arrested and jailed for protecting our farmland from outsider gas corporations. We need leadership who will stop making jail a first response and instead use it as a last resort.
I’m running to be Lancaster’s district attorney because we deserve a justice system where everyday people matter. Where all of us, no matter where we live or how much money we have, are part of a system committed to achieving health, safety and justice.
Hobie Crystle is the Democratic candidate for Lancaster County district attorney. He works as a defense attorney at his Lancaster city firm Crystle-Allen Law.