For State Attorney Aramis Ayala, criminal justice reform is a passion -- one that compelled her to run for Orange-Osceola state attorney in the first place, and one that's landed her in hot water.
- State Attorney Aramis Ayala speaks at National Association of Hispanic Journalists forum
- Ayala says cancer at a young age taught her a level of accountability
- Ayala says she will continue to work to reform the system
State Attorney Ayala participated in the "Cafe Con Leche" series, hosted by the Central Florida Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Thursday.
"When I talk about why I ran for office, there were some injustices that I saw," said State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who represents Orange and Osceola County in the Ninth Judicial Circuit.
However, to many people, State Attorney Ayala is best known as the controversial prosecutor who announced she wouldn't seek the death penalty earlier this year.
"There's so much more to me as a person, as a lawyer, as a prosecutor," Ayala explained.
Ayala said that's because her perspective was shaped when she almost died from lymphoma in 1999.
"I think a lot of it goes back to my experience with cancer," Ayala revealed. "When you go through something extremely traumatic at a tender age, it teaches you the level of accountability.
"It teaches you that one day, we all have to answer and respond for the life that we lived," Ayala continued.
Ayala stands by her strong convictions but she said she's willing to uphold the state law.
"I'm hoping that at some point that what I believe the research shows and justice and the court's decision will align," Ayala shared.
"That's essentially where we are. As State Attorney, I have a responsibility to follow the law. I will create policies that are consistent with the law, that's what I've done and that's what I'll continue to do," Ayala added.
One of Ayala's top priorities is criminal justice reform, which she says has already helped about 1,000 children.
Project No/No stands for no arrest, no official record, which allows youth accused of minor crimes to avoid having juvenile records, if charges aren't filed.
"Reform is about utilizing data, it’s about using evidence, it’s about eliminating fear-based policies and us just doing what we’ve always done and justifying it," Ayala explained.
Ayala said she also believes her newly-formed domestic violence and human trafficking units are the type of initiatives making a real difference in the community.
“I can see me continuing to fight for justice for as long as I breathe," Ayala said. "That’s ultimately the goal, and if the people who I serve see it in this position, that will happen. My goal of justice, my goal of equality, my goal of trying to balance public safety and justice will never end."
State Attorney Ayala has also made some personnel changes. Her office recently hired 20 new lawyers, who just passed the Florida Bar.