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Public Defender And State Attorney Duke It Out

Ryan Benk

Two Republican candidates squared off in a debate Wednesday at a meeting of the Southside Business Men’s Club — but they’re running for different offices.

Since the recession, the Southside Business Men’s Club has had a tougher time drawing new members. To help, President Patrick Heatherington is hoping to draw attention by planning  events where sparks are likely to fly.

Two incumbents, Matt Shirk and Angela Corey, are running for public defender and state attorney, respectively. Heatherington said while Shirk and Corey may be in the same party, they have very different approaches to the criminal justice system.

“They’re on opposite sides of various issues — civil citations, treatment versus imprisonment, things like that,” he said.  

And that’s exactly where the debate veered: Shirk said Corey relied too heavily on imprisonment and ignored the results of “smart justice” programs.

“As we all know, incarceration doesn't work. We can't arrest our way out of a crime problem and recidivism rates for prison sentences are about 40 percent so it doesn't work,” he said.

Shirk said look at the stats — Duval County is No. 1 in death-row inmates and No. 3 in young offenders charged as adults with felonies.

But Corey said her office uses court diversion programs instead of jail when possible, and her priority is justice for violent-crime victims.

“Our victims have constitutional rights that I will scrupulously guard and I will follow the law,” she said.

The two incumbents are facing some head winds. Corey’s defending herself after her campaign manager admitted to filing paperwork for a write-in candidate, effectively closing the primary to Republican voters. Meanwhile, Shirk is trailing Republican challenger Charles Coffer in fundraising. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.