A COMMITMENT TO SERVE
DISTRICT ATTORNEY PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON of Gwinnett County expresses how she plans to transform the judicial system, reduce the recidivism rate, and turning the state of Georgia blue.
Committed to the excellence of Gwinnett County, and her core values of prosecution, justice and fairness, D.A. Austin-Gatson is proud to be a history maker, as the first person of color and woman to ever be elected to the District Attorney’s Office in the Gwinnett Judicial Circuit. She hopes her career will inspire the next generation of young people.
MONARCH: How does it feel to be the first Black woman elected to be district attorney in Gwinnett County?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: Making history is humbling experience. In 2021, you do not expect there to be firsts; yet, we still have many more firsts to accomplish. That is why it is an honor to be the first African American and first woman district attorney in Gwinnett County.
It is humbling to create space and opportunity for others at the decision table. But when there is not a chair already for you, make sure you pull up your own, even if it is a lawn chair. If you do not have a seat, just bring your own.
It is humbling, because Gwinnettians have permitted me to have not a seat but the seat at the table. I am thankful.
MONARCH: What motivated you to pursue a career in law?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: I was raised in Queens, New York, the youngest of six, and first to graduate college from Syracuse University and then Emory University School of Law. I went into law because after college worked in Brooklyn’s district attorney’s office, and I knew I wanted to help people. Plus, I enjoy the law, because it allows me to continuously learn, it is ever changing and you must always adjust. I enjoy learning.
At this moment our nation is going thorough tremendous changes, and it always involves the law. I always wanted to be part of the mechanism for justice.
MONARCH: What are some challenges you face in Gwinnett?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: The reality of the biggest challenge I have is the resistance to change itself and that means what it represents for someone that looks like me to be elected. People have to adjust to a black woman in law enforcement leadership in the second largest county in Georgia. My job is to keep my promises of why I ran for district attorney.
MONARCH: What are your goals for Gwinnett County?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: I want to be proactive to prevent crime, end mass incarceration and reduce recidivism rates while holding accountable those that commit crimes. I want Gwinnettians to know they have hope and a future. I also want to work regionally with other district attorneys in Georgia because crime does not stop at boundaries.
MONARCH: Historically, there has been a negative narrative surrounding the state of Georgia with unfair practices in law, housing, economics and community engagement. How do you plan to change that?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: Improving our state is a complex issue that requires programs from cradle to grave. We need to do more to help young children with quality education and to avoid them getting a record. At a recent conference on children, scholars stated that 52% of children will not be prepared for kindergarten. As a community, we all must do something to help whether that means reading a book to a young person or mentoring a young person. In my office, I am making mandatory a program called Pretrial Intervention and Diversion to give a second chance to first-time offenders to prevent criminal records. This will make a positive impact on the individual, their families and society if the offender takes advantage of the opportunity of a second chance. But people do get in trouble. We also must give them holistic programs to rehabilitate and still see at them as redeemable people. We need to provide access and training to vocations and trades, so they are able take care of themselves and their families when released.
Plus, of course, Georgia is now on the political map with our newly elected U.S. senators that have given the Biden administration the ability to pass legislation. Georgians did that! I am hopeful and give thanks that Georgia is changing. But we also need to change the state legislature and elected people that own the core values of democracy. It is imperative. I want to remind people that the vote is very powerful.
MONARCH: Who has failed the youth: parents, the government or the school system? What can be done to turn failure into success?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: Youth have been failed by parents, government and schools to different degrees. But you can still have great parents and youth still make mistakes. Young people can have not-great parents and be incredible young people. Again, I think children need to have hope in the future. The government needs to provide more programming for the success of youth, and the youth need to build relationships with people who will support them throughout their lives
MONARCH: What do you want those inside and outside Gwinnett County to know about you?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: I never give up and challenges motivate me to work harder. I will be here for the constituents of Gwinnett county. More personally: my husband, three adult children and two grandchildren round out my life.
MONARCH: Do you hae a quote to share with readers?
D.A. PATSY AUSTIN-GATSON: Read. Write. Be curious. Put in the time to accomplish your goals.