Natasha Irving said her first priority if elected district attorney would be to implement a community-based restorative justice system for the Midcoast.

Irving, who was born and raised in Waldoboro, is the Democratic candidate for district attorney for the region that includes Knox, Lincoln, Waldo and Sagadahoc counties. She is challenging District Attorney Jonathan Liberman, a Republican.

After college in New Orleans and then law school at the University of Maine School of Law, she worked as a labor organizer, a political organizer and then opened her own law practice four years ago.

"I really needed to take a leadership position in the criminal justice system. A lot has to be improved, needs to be improved," Irving said.

She said a restorative justice program would focus on nonviolent offenders. This would address the root causes of the crimes, ask offenders to really tackle the problems that bring them back to court time and time again, and also make victims whole, she said.

"Often victims don't feel like they got justice," she said.

Such a program would also reduce the cost to taxpayers, Irving said, by not incarcerating people at taxpayers' expense for nonviolent offenses.

"Currently the district attorney prosecutes an overwhelming amount of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, like people driving to work without a license, people relapsing on a substance they are addicted to. They're being taken out of treatment and gong to jail at taxpayers' expense," the candidate said.

The cure for addiction is treatment at the offender's expense, she stressed.

She said she would shift the focus to prosecuting people for violent crimes, and get harsher sentences for sex offenses and elder abuse.

She said since 97 percent of cases are settled by plea agreements, the district attorney has an overwhelming amount of power and an overwhelming amount of discretion as to who is getting charged and what people are being charged with and the final result.

She said that discretion has put a lot of nonviolent offenders in jail.

"Those cases are pleading out. We don't have the conviction to go forward to trial and ask for a harsher sentence when someone really harms our community. That's where we need to shift our resources," she said.

The Democratic challenger said the District Attorney's Office is doing a good job of community-based restorative justices with juvenile populations.

"I would like to see that extended to adults who commit nonviolent offenses," she said.

Irving said she will work to create specialty courts, such as a drug court, mental health court, and a veterans' court to deal with the needs of those populations.

The attorney said she represented a veteran in court a couple of weeks ago who served two tours in Afghanistan and four tours in Iraq. She said when he returned home to the Midcoast, he nearly drank himself to death and got into trouble with the law.

The veteran had to move away from his family because there was no veterans' court locally and he had to travel to Augusta and participate in the program there.